When it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, I would not class myself as the ‘average viewer’. If anything, I am a huge fan of the wonderfully wacky contest. So I, along with tens of thousands of people from all over Europe and around the world, was ready to head to Rotterdam this May to enjoy its week of spectacular weirdness. However, COVID-19 has put these plans on hold. I do not want to in any way diminish the awful effects the current crisis has had on every aspect of life, I just find it unfortunate, but understandable, that the contest had to be postponed.
Luckily, the song contest in this film filled the Eurovision-shaped hole in my soul and gave me the dose of cheese and ridiculous fun that I needed. I have a personal connection with the film too. A dear friend and housemate from my Undergraduate degree plays one of the backing dancers to the German entry which was sadly cut from the film. She is briefly visible, though, in the scene in Lemtov’s mansion which leads into the fantastic sing-along sequence filled with Eurovision contestant cameos.
In short, Fire Saga, a band comprised of two Icelandic performers and lifelong friends (Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams), dream of performing live in front of 180 million people on the Eurovision stage and, through an unbelievable set of circumstances, they get a chance to do just that. Will this be all that they hoped and dreamed for or will the pressure of the competition get to them? This 2-hour film has been described as perhaps 30 minutes too long, but for someone who is used to sitting through a 3-hour live Eurovision final, the running time wasn’t the problem. It was more the tired groin joke and the slow tempo at times which I found challenging.
Ferrell, who wrote, produced and starred in the film, exhibits a true understanding for this extravagant pageant. The film’s creative team took a trip to last year’s show in Tel Aviv and shot the performances on the stage with the competition’s actual audience. I was going to say that it may have been a bit unusual for the attendees to cheer for Ferrell and McAdams, but since last year’s contest featured an Australian opera singer performing on a giant 5-metre tall bendy stick, it is fair to say that they’ve seen weirder things. Among the implausible elements of the film, though, is Croatia making it to the final (no shade, but as a Croat I feel as though I have the right to say this – send better acts!) and the UK, by some miracle, winning last year’s competition and, therefore, hosting. Other than that, spot on! I especially appreciated the cringy hosts and the wonderfully sassy comments by Graham Norton, who is the actual commentator for the UK, helping sell the reality of this film.
The music, under the direction of the Icelandic composer Atli Örvarsson, truly sounded like some previous entries. As for performances, a complex portrayal of a multi-layered character would stick out in this cheesy film, as much as Madonna’s set did in last year’s final (don’t get me started). It is strange, however, that Ferrell did not cast either a comedic actress or one that is known for her singing voice. McAdams is convincing as an in-love naïve singer, but due to her weak voice, her vocals were blended with Swedish performer Molly Sandén, who performs under the name My Marianne. Dan Stevens, with his singing chops already confirmed in the recent Beauty and the Beast live-action remake, steals every scene he is in, gliding smoothly and singing with operatic bravado. Pierce Brosnan is as 2D as they come and could have been replaced with a cardboard cut-out of himself without anyone noticing.
The plot is easy to follow and fun. The representation of Icelandic fairy folklore could be indicative of a recent resurgence of paganism or perhaps a comment on how music is truly magical. Regardless, it leads to a truly laugh-out-loud moment, so I will happily allow it. I was struck by unexpected social commentary on the political situation in Russia near the end of the film. The country, with its history of strong opposition to homosexuality, often sends flamboyant performances, pandering knowingly to the viewership. As for the whole Iceland- Russia rivalry, it is in a way ironic that this year’s Icelandic entry for Eurovision, Talk About Things by Daði Freyr, had a very good chance of challenging, maybe even beating, Russia’s entry Uno by the widely popular band Little Big (I did say I am a religious follower of Eurovision.). Truly a case of life imitating art imitating life!
All in all, you are likely to leave the film shouting ‘Ja ja ding dong’ and I don’t blame you. I somehow believe that is what the creators intended, and I’d happily give it 12 points. With the competition postponed, it will take place in Rotterdam next year. I know I will be going. Maybe by watching this film, you might join the Eurovision hype and I may see you in The Netherlands next May.
– Josip Martinčić
Featured Image Source: Still via Netflix Official Trailer // YouTube
All Eurovision performances are accessible via the Eurovision Song Contest YouTube Channel