Film review: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020), directed by David Dobkin
tl;dr: Play Jaja Ding Dong!
In 1974 ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo. In Iceland young Lars Erickssong has found his raison d’être: he wants to win the Eurovision Song Contest for Iceland (despite them not actually taking part until 12 years later). Flash forward to modern day, and Lars (Will Ferrell) is now middle-aged and he still wants to represent Iceland, and together with his BFF/love interest since childhood/fellow Fire Saga band member Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams, whose singing is performed by Swedish Molly Sandén), he thinks he’s in with a chance.
His handsome father (Pierce Brosnan, who doesn’t sing) is embarrassed. Lars has become the laughing stock of Húsavík with his mad-cap ambition and so far mediocre musical output. All the audience at the local bar want to hear of Fire Saga is Jaja Ding Dong. (Which is fair, because it’s a super catchy Schlager song, and we never get to hear the full version of it, boo.)
As luck would have it, Fire Saga get picked for the Icelandic selection competition, along with Katiana (Demi Lovato), who is a shoe-in for winning. And, perhaps the elves had something to do with it, but Fire Saga obviously end up going to the semi-finals in Edinburgh, Scotland (!), representing Iceland. They’re clearly the underdog, but can they actually get through to the final, and do they actually have a shot at winning? It would mean Iceland would have to host the contest next year, and it’s just such an unwarranted expense, you know?
There are things to like about this film, and there are things to not like. For instance, I liked that they never poked fun at Eurovision, although seeing as the film is in partnership with the EBU, it’s perhaps not a surprise. Seeing Mikael Persbrandt as an Icelandic banker was fun. Even the elves, who are most definitely a part of Icelandic folklore, get to be considered as something other than merely an easily-dismissed belief.
Both the Squeeze and I were gleefully playing “spot the previous winner” – Portugal’s Salvador Sobral got the worst deal, being reduced to busking! There’s Netta (Israel), Conchita Wurst (Austria), Loreen (Sweden), Alexander Rybak (Norway), John Lundvik (Sweden) and other people we sort of recognised but couldn’t put a name to. And they all get to sing in a big medley and it’s glourious.
The funniest part of the film wasn’t even Fire Saga themselves, but Russia’s playboy contestant Alexander Lemtov – but that might have been mostly down to him being played by Dan Stevens. Lemtov might have the riches of the Granthams in Downton Abbey, but that’s about it. He’s hilarious. He also makes Sigrit question her devotion to Lars, of course, while Lars’s devotion is called into question by Greek contestant Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut).
Acerbic commentary from Graham Norton, of course, it wouldn’t quite be Eurovision without him if you’re in the UK, as he’s the official commentator during the final, but NOT during the two semi-finals. And here’s where long-term Eurovision fans will definitely start to grind their teeth a bit.
While it’s nice that they include the voting results, the semi-finals don’t actually give out points, the presenters just read out the ten qualified countries. Artistic license here, I feel, because they probably wanted everyone to get the whole DOUZE POINTS moment. But why are the semi-finals presenters seemingly not British when the UK are hosting? Why are they using the same presenters in the semi-finals as in the finals? Why are Spain and the UK listed as countries that need to qualify for the final when they both are part of the Big Five and don’t have to qualify? Besides, given that the UK must have won the year before to be able to host it even if they weren’t part of the Big Five, they’d still automatically qualify for the final. The qualifying countries bit was such an easy thing to rectify as well, they could have literally picked ANY OTHER TWO COUNTRIES (except France, Germany and Italy) and got away with it.
(Having the UK as the host country is a nice touch, by the way. It was probably because they happened to film it in Scotland more than anything else, but it’s almost like an in-joke to Eurovision fans. Not to mention how there are no homosexuals in Russia …)
As a comedy, though? It’s kind of meh. It’s predictable, it’s not really anything to write home about, and while some parts are a bit unexpected, it’s a standard tale of overlapping love triangles, redemption and overcoming adversity. But it’s wrapped in beautiful scenery and the glitz and glamour of Eurovision. And since this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam was cancelled, I’m still happy Will Ferrell fell in love with it all those years ago (thanks to his Swedish in-laws) so that this film could end up happening. As a love letter to the biggest Europe-wide TV event of the year, it certainly works. And the music’s delightful, of course.
But I’m still only giving it 3 out of 5 volcanic protector men, because it’s not as good as it could have been. Now go play Jaja Ding Dong!