For starters, the title is awful— EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA— it sounds like a teen fantasy novel gone wrong— and it stars and was written by Will Ferrell, whose work I’ve enjoyed less and less with each passing year. But yet—
—-yet, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) is actually a really good movie, one that gets better as it goes along. It’s also one of Ferrell’s best films in years.
Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) has dreamed his whole life of winning the famed Eurovision Song Contest for his home country of Iceland, so much so that he has devoted his entire life to the endeavor, much to the chagrin of his father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) who makes it no secret how ashamed he is of his son’s “foolish” dreams. But Lars’ best friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) feels otherwise and together they make up the band Fire Saga and work each day to achieve their goal of making it to Eurovision.
Trouble is, they’re not particularly good, and they have established the reputation in their village as being pretty darned awful, which is a major reason why Erick thinks his son is wasting his life away on a dream rather than working.
But fate intervenes when Iceland needs one more entry for their national competition, and so they select a band randomly, which turns out to be Fire Saga. While Lars and Sigrit are overjoyed, as expected, they do not win, and hence don’t qualify for the trip to participate in Eurovision. But “fate” intervenes again when a ferry boat carrying every single Ice Landic act who placed ahead of Fire Saga mysteriously explodes in a fiery inferno, leaving as the only act left– Fire Saga. Suddenly they are on their way to Eurovision!
And that’s what the bulk of the movie is about, Lars and Sigrits’ adventures as they practice and prepare to particpate and somehow win the Eurovision competition.
Okay. On the surface, this plot sound silly, trite, and dumb, but it really isn’t. There’s a lot going on here.
The beginning of EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is very silly and humorous, as some of Fire Saga’s awful music numbers are laugh out loud funny, and so the feeling is, this is going to be a goofball comedy perhaps satirizing shows like Eurovision. But that’s not the direction the movie takes.
EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about two things. For one, it’s a love story between Lars and Sigrit, which at first sounds funny, because the idea of Will Ferrell in a love story is— well, laughable. And Ferrell is himself here, meaning he’s goofy, but he does channel an exhuberant innocence the way he did as Buddy the Elf in what I think is still his best movie, ELF (2003). Lars is also super focused on winning the contest, and so he barely notices Sigrit who definitely has feelings for him.
And so the love story is driven by Sigrit and by Rachel McAdam’s spirited performance as the character, as she delivers by far the best performance in the movie. She believes in Lars and during their journey together falls in love with him but hesitates to be up front with her feelings because she doesn’t want to ruin their art together.
Which is the second thing EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about, the making of art. These two characters devote their lives to a cause, and for Sigrit it’s more about performing than winning, while Lars just wants to win, but they both have something to say with their music. And they say it.
They both also see the world as artists do. So when Sigrit speaks of believing in elves, which on the surface is a statement about superstition in Iceland and is in the movie for comedic value, on a deeper level, it’s about a figurative way of thinking that allows artists to see things in ways that others don’t and to believe in things that others don’t. It’s why art— music, films, books, paintings— can change the world.
Now, I know this sounds too deep for a Will Ferrell movie, but these elements are all in the script, which is why I liked this one so much. Beneath this silly musical comedy about an unlikely singing duo, there’s a subtext which speaks and speaks well about what it is to be an artist. It’s a really good screenplay by Ferell and Andrew Steele.
It also gets the humor right. There are several laugh out loud moments in this film, from the outrageous bands in the contest and some of their numbers, to the playful banter between Lars and Sigrit, to some over the top sequences where Lars’ innocent silliness is on full display. Ferrell enjoys a lot of funny moments here.
And the end of this movie is really moving. You’ll actually forget how this one started, as a seemingly silly spoof, and be moved to tears by the emotional impact of its conclusion. Seriously!
As I said, this is Will Ferrell’s best work in some time. While most of his recent films have been meh, and in fact I haven’t loved a Ferrell movie since ELF, he steps it up big time here with EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. While Lars is never ordinary, he is sincere, driven to win to a fault, and in spite of his innocent offbeat silliness he’s believable.
He’s also complemented by Sigrit, brilliantly played here by Rachel McAdams. Hands down, McAdams gives the best performance in the movie. I like McAdams a lot, and she has delivered some memorable performances over the years. I especially enjoyed her work in SPOTLIGHT (2015) and she was hilarious in the very funny comedy GAME NIGHT (2018) in which she starred alongside Jason Bateman.
Here, McAdams plays Sigrit as an artist inspired by Lars and moved by him to be the best singer she can be, something that is sadly lost on him for most of the story. Her enthusiasm for her craft is infectious, and she and Ferrell have excellent chemistry throughout and are enjoyable together during the entire movie. McAdams effortlessly traverses between silly and serious and she makes Sigrit one of the more interesting characters I’ve seen in the movies this year.
Pierce Brosnan adds solid support as Lars’ father Erick, who for most of the movie is embarrassed for his son. Brosnan doesn’t play the character in a cliche over the top way. His contempt for his son is deep and real, and Brosnan nails the emotion throughout.
Dan Stevens is also excellent as Alexandar Lemtov, Russia’s contestant in the Eurovision contest and the odds-on favorite to win the entire competition. He also has eyes for Sigrit. Like the rest of the movie, Steven’s performance is a mix of over-the-top humor and subtle subtext. In Lemtov’s case, he’s a closeted homosexual who laments that Russia doesn’t allow him to live his life the way he wants.
Directed by David Dobkin, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER in spite of its God-awful title and presence of Will Ferrell which would lead one to believe this is just a goofy comedy, is really a movie that supercedes expectations and is one of the more entertaining and enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.
Dobkin gives this one so much energy it flies by and even though it’s a two hour movie it seems much shorter than that. It’s full of memorable music numbers, has a surprisingly literate script by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele, and features wonderful performances by Ferrell and more so by Rachel McAdams.
So, ignore the title, and the fact that Will Ferrell is playing an over-achieving singer and songwriter. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER is a treat of a movie, one that offers both surprises and laughs throughout, and finishes with an emotional conclusion that is above and beyond what one would usually expect for this type of movie.
You might even find yourself believing in elves!