Massively popular in its European home and broadcasted across five continents, Eurovision is one of the biggest annual song competitions of the past 64 years. Throughout its history, the show saw multitudes of great performances – the recent likes of Loreen’s smash hit Euphoria, Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale or Kristína’s Horehronie come to mind. Despite being relatively unknown in the US, the show also has some fans overseas, one of them being actor Will Ferrell, who loves Eurovision so much, he actually wrote an entire film about it. But, to quote a song, sometimes love just isn’t enough.
Lars Erikssong (Will Ferrell) is a dreamer. His dream? To get into the Eurovision Song Contest and prove to his native Iceland that it’s not merely a foolish dream, but that he actually has the talent and determination to be a great musician. His artistic output is a band featuring his longtime friend Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), called Fire Saga. They’re not very popular, nor liked in the beginning. In fact, as the film mentions quite often, they’re bad. Nobody takes them seriously and even Lars’ father Erik (Pierce Brosnan) considers Fire Saga a shame upon the family name. However, Fire Saga somehow manages to enter the Contest, where the challenge is not only representing Iceland in front of the world, but also facing their own struggles.
The Story of Fire Saga offers pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a Will Ferrell-led comedy. Rachel McAdams plays a stereotypical quirky girl, but she sells it making her fun to watch on screen. She also gets her fair share of dramatic moments, which she handles much better than the heavy-handed comic bits, although that’s more to the fault of the generic script rather than her performance. Ferrell, on the other hand, feels extremely out of place in this. Sure, Fire Saga are the weird outsiders, but Sigrit at least seems human, while Lars is a caricature, trying to be silly and invoke laughs in every scene, which more often than not backfires.
To give the film some credit, it handles the dynamics between the duo rather well. McAdams isn’t sidelined, neither is Ferrell, and at the end of the 120 minute runtime their character arcs are rounded up better than one would think the film could manage. Unfortunately, there is the issue of the incestuous subplot of “are they / aren’t they siblings”, which is brought up a couple times for jokes but, above all, feels insulting, not only to Iceland. Pierce Brosnan only has a few scenes as Lars’ father Erik, but his portrayal of a grounded, bitter fisherman (coupled with phenomenal facial hair) is a very welcome addition to the film.
As for the actual comedy, there isn’t much to laugh about. Most of it stems from stereotypes about Europe, some inaccurate, some downright offensive. There is one funny segment where Lars tells a couple of Americans to basically ‘fuck off’, but even that bit is unnecessarily prolonged until it is no longer funny. Comedy-wise, Dan Stevens as the Russian singer Alexander Lemtov – an odd mix of George Michael and a few stereotypes – almost always lands a joke. He enters the story somewhere halfway through the film, at the same time as an awkward musical segment, which plays as if one switched off the film and turned on a music video, starring some of the actual Eurovision contesters, such as Conchita Wurst.
Luckily, comedy is only half of this film. The other is musical numbers, which are actually quite enjoyable once the film gets to the Eurovision performances. The songs aren’t anything special, most likely you won’t remember a single tune and, in a twisted way of fate, Fire Saga’s song may actually be the weakest of the bunch. Ferrell’s vocal performance is surprisingly strong and he holds his own against McAdams, whose singing was overdubbed by a Swedish singer by the name of Molly Sandén. Nevertheless, time flies by nicely when watching a re-enactment of the show, especially as some performances pay homage to previous Eurovision acts, such as the eccentric Hard Rock Hallelujah.
The Story of Fire Saga starts as the most basic, lowest common denominator for comedy, devoid of any original idea. True, as the film goes on it gets better, but not by a lot. Don’t expect another Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, because this film goes through every predictable story beat with little to no innovation on said tropes. It’s your classic underdog story that, despite its few bright moments, doesn’t feel justified.