This Will Ferrell comedy has no business running for over two hours, but it’s the kind of super-silly light fun that’s most welcome in these tense times. It also does a lot to fill the Eurovision-shaped hole for this Eurovision fan.
The movie follows Fire Saga, an Icelandic duo from the small town of Húsavík, who, through sheer dumb luck and an explosive tragic accident, end up representing their country at the Eurovision Song Contest. Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) has been dreaming of winning the contest ever since seeing ABBA’s performance of Waterloo as a little boy, and his life-long friend, musical partner, and totally most likely not his sister Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) is onboard for the dream. Luckily for Lars, since no one else in the town takes him seriously, including his own disapproving father (Pierce Brosnan) who thinks that Lars should just grow up and forget his silly aspirations.
There are all kinds of Eurovision fans and I’m of the “I mock because I love” variety. I can’t help but feel affection for this ridiculous, corny and kitschy event that in a way does make me feel strongly connected to my European background when I watch it here in Melbourne. So it was a nice surprise to discover that, rather than taking the path of merciless parody, The Story of Fire Saga sincerely embraces the spirit of Eurovision and celebrates it as much as it mocks it. Tellingly, there’s a host of cameo appearances by the past Eurovision contestants and winners, including Conchita Wurst, Netta Barzilai, Salvador Sobral and Alex Ryback, most of them popping up during an effervescent show-stopping medley of pop hits.
While I enjoyed Will Ferrell in other movies, I’m undecided on whether he’s an asset to The Story of Fire Saga. The film was apparently a passion project for Ferrell (one of the ten Americans in the world aware of the Eurovision’s existence), but he simply looks too old for the role, and while his usual overgrown man-child routine doesn’t ruin the movie, it doesn’t feel like it adds much either. Thankfully, he’s paired up with delightful and adorable Rachel McAdams, whose comic and dramatic talents all but carry the movie and help sell the central romance between Lars and Sigrit. To his credit, Ferrell seems to know when it’s time to step aside and let McAdams shine.
There’s a couple of other secret weapons. One is Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame playing Alexander Lemtov, an outrageously flamboyant Russian George Michael who’s one of the competition’s biggest favourites. Alexander is a sheer joy to watch whenever he’s onscreen and his campy pop-operatic Eurovision number (Lion of Loooooove) gets my personal vote. The songs of The Story of Fire Saga are in fact uniformly perfect, as in, I can see each one them making it into the real-life show. The upbeat songs are cheesy and catchy, and I do hope that Husavik (My Hometown), the film’s big power ballad, will let the Eurovision gatecrash the Academy Awards next year.
The Story of Fire Saga could have shed some twenty minutes of flab; a good few jokes fall flat and some scenes drag on for too long or just could be cut entirely. But just like its underdog duo, the movie wears its heart on its sleeve and builds up to a completely predictable yet surprisingly emotional finale.
P.S. I couldn’t help but feel that the movie was out to taunt me personally by setting the action in Iceland and Edinburgh, two places I’m not going to this year because of the virus.
P.P.S. Speaking of, one of the film’s great unresolved mysteries is Edinburgh as the host city. Is this story set in a near future where Scotland gains independence and wins the Eurovision? Or maybe Australia was the winner and handed over the duties to a European city as per agreement? Either of these scenarios is way more plausible than the UK getting enough votes for the top spot.
P.P.P.S. Pierce Brosnan must be one of the best-looking 60-somethings in the world.