Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell make fun of Eurovision in this new Netflix Original, and while they mostly succeed in the undertaking, the real scene stealer is Dan Stevens (Apostle (2018)).
All of Europeans know that Eurovision – the multinational song contest held every year – can be consumed only as a masochistic form of guilty pleasure. The contest has a long-lasting tradition of uniting European countries sine 1956, but the formula has been drastically changed since its beginning. The modern revelations of the competition involve the likes of bearded transgender artist Conchita Wurst or the cosmic Ukrainians Verka Serduschka, who both are far from the celebration of European art and culture that Eurovision initially stood for.
Eurovision has gradually steered away from promoting any worthwhile music, but among the glistening sequins, and over-excited hosts, Eurovision cannot be denied its fair share of political frictions too. None of us Europeans tunes in to watch the contest for the sheer audiovisual value, but for all the backstage, on-stage, and national-stage dramas.
The new Original Netflix production, entitled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) devises a fairytale of an Icelandic duo which wishes to become this one-hit Eurovision wonder.
What is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) about?
The creators of new Netflix blockbuster comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) leave the political luggage behind – at least for most of the time.
The plot finds an Icelandic duo called Fire Saga, played by Rachel McAdams and Will Ferrell, who dream about becoming the official Icelandic representatives. Needless to say, they’re not quite as talented as Bjork, Sigur Rós or any notable Icelandic artist for that matter. In fact, they’re biggest achievement is the following song:
Behind the scenes, Lars and Sigrit represent the hordes of bizarre artists who never make it out of their hometown bars. In all of their naivety, there’s sheer passion and an emotional bond to their dreamland – the Eurovision stage.
Unfortunately the script, written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele (an SNL writer for many years), takes shortcuts in developing these two protagonists.
Ferrell remains in his acting “comfort zone” as Lars – a no-hoper who lacks charisma, talent and often likability too. The actor pulls off a few hilarious moments, but the writing left me baffled at some of the Iceland-oriented mockery, which Lars is supposed to encapsulate. In the end, he’s the only non-bearded, non-fisherman type in the whole village.
Many of these stereotypes presented in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) remain largely over-the-top. The Icelanders are portrayed as simple people, and while some moments shine bright – like the character named Olaf who loves Fire Saga’s song Ja Ja Ding Dong a bit too much – many jokes fall flat. That’s how the first half reveals as a whole, being rough around the edges and only occasionally funny.
Rachel McAdams steals the show, and so does Dan Stevens
Ferrell’s efforts are outshined by Rachel McAdams, who works miracles with the thin character she’s been given. McAdams has proven to be a versatile actress, leaving The Notebook (2004) label has been long gone now. As Sigrit, McAdams embraces the role of a dorky, heart-on-the-sleeve girl whose talent is always suppressed by Lars’ wrongful decisions and shortsightedness.
The dynamic from the dynamic between Ferrell and McAdams gives grounds to plenty of comedic moments in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020), however their relationship also constitutes the dramatic axis of the plot. In fact, David Dobkin, who is the director of the Netflix movie, doesn’t shun from the possibilities of prolonged soap opera sequences. As a consequence, Ferrell and McAdams wrestle with a vaguely formal drama build-up, fueled mostly by the genuine performance of the latter.
Setting aside the half-baked dramatic layer of the movie, the real fun is hidden in the second part of the film, once Lars and Sigrit accidentally join the big leagues (pardon the spoiler). It’s that time when Dan Stevens appears for the first time, joined by cohorts of colorful embodiments of Eurovision dreams, cameo appearances and lots, lots of genuine cringe (which I somehow loved).
While McAdams carries the film’s overall weight, Dan Stevens is hands-down, the comedic savior of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020). Stevens wears the skin of early-career George Michael, but adds an exotic twist as a secretly-openly gay Russian contestant Alexander.
Alexander encapsulates the magic of Eurovision – the brilliance of its absurdity, the glam and the political agenda behind it. Even the writing favors the actor. Our perception of Alexander changes throughout the film, and he also delivers the most worthwhile political commentary of the movie, piking up a fight with the intolerance in “Mother Russia“. Frankly, the arch of Alexander feels more believable than that of Sigrit or Lars.
A thing worth discussing too is the soundtrack. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020) offers plenty of disco-dipped songs, and most of them fall in line with the usual Eurovision level of crap. Considering the film’s angle though, these pop songs fit perfectly, thus allowing McAdams and Ferrell to work outside of the poorly developed characters. I was actually astounded by one fairytale sequence, when the Eurovision contestant play the game of Ace of Base, blending popular songs (such as Cher’s Believe) in a sweetly atrocious song-along clip. As disgusting as it was, I couldn’t help but nod my head rhythmically.
I think that Netflix needs content such as Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020). The cheesy, digestible originals help to win the hearts of those, who – after a long week – can’t force themselves to consume ambitious, independent cinema. Fortunately, Dobkin’s film won’t trick anyone into believing that it’s more than a silly, light-hearted comedy flick. Although I still would love to see a more grounded, socially engaged film about Eurovision, I’ll give Dobkin credits for capturing the turpism of the contest, as well as sticking the ridiculous Ja-Ja Ding-Dong song in my header days.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga (2020)
Director: David Dobkin
Writers: Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele
Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan
Soundtrack: Atli Örvarsson
Cinematography: Danny Cohen
Available at: Netflix