Principal Cast : Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Mikael Persbrandt, Pierce Brosnan, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Melissanthi Mahut, Joi Johannsson, Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton, Elin Petersdottir, Jamie Demetriou, Elina Alminas, Jon Kortajarena.
Synopsis: When aspiring musicians Lars and Sigrit are given the opportunity to represent their country at the world’s biggest song competition, they finally have a chance to prove that any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.
For people who live in Europe, and more recently Australia, the annual Eurovision Song Contest is regarded alternatively as a preposterous competition over saccharine-pop featuring weird and extravagant production values, or as a global entertainment phenomenon rivalling the Superbowl and terrorism for viewing figures. For a competition best known as the breakout moment the world discovered ABBA, the show’s continued popularity in the years since it debuted in 1956 has made it the longest running televised song competition in history, spanning entire continents and annual audiences in the hundreds of millions. It is so popular it has finally landed on the radar of American comedian Will Ferrell, a man for whom kooky and weird humour such as the style espoused in The Story Of Fire Saga has become his stock-in-trade, and he stars alongside Rachel McAdams in this gloriously silly love-letter to the competition that will no doubt introduce it to many, many more people who are yet to embrace it’s charms.
Swedish music duo Fire Saga, comprised of childhood friends Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigritt Ericksdottir (McAdams) long for fame and fortune, having had only one hit single (the novelty song “Jaja Ding Dong”, which is requested repeatedly whenever they perform, much to Lars’ disgust) and playing mainly to their home town. Lars has one singular dream: to win the Eurovision Song Contest, much to the dismay of his widowed father, Erick (Pierce Brosnan). When an unfortunate event sees Fire Saga as Sweden’s only entry into the competition, Lars and Sigritt find themselves thrust into the hurly-burly world of sequins and spotlights alongside fellow competitor Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) as Eurovision kicks off.
I have a sneaking suspicion Will Ferrell might one day be regarded as a comedy genius. The same man who manufactured absolute hot garbage in Step Brothers, Bewitched and Holmes & Watson, has also given us specific comedy gems such as Blades of Glory, Anchorman, Talladega Nights and now the cumbersomely titled Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. He’s a bipolar comedian who seems to work best when focussing on lampooning a specific idea – such as the world of stock car racing in Talladega Nights, which itself seemed to spoof the Tom Cruise flick Days Of Thunder – and he absolutely nails the insanity of Eurovision alongside screen-partner Rachel McAdams, herself no stranger to off-the-wall comedy. Ferrell gets the novelty act silliness of it all, and to our utter delight makes the biggest musical joke of all time actually seem reasonably legitimate.
Co-written by Ferrell and longtime Saturday Night Live scribe Andrew Steele, The Story of Fire Saga starts and finishes almost exactly as you might suspect: it’s the story of one man’s quest to achieve what he believes to be the ultimate glory, which (spoilers) you have to be an idiot not to see coming a mile off, but along the way also learns some Valuable Life Lessons as he grows as a person. The film’s comedy is derived from Ferrell’s startling Swedish accent (no doubt enabled by his real-life Swedish-born wife, actress Viveca Paulin) and the story’s commitment to the premise, which itself is absolutely insane but handled brilliantly with that kooky off-kilter dry wit Ferrell is known for. You almost – almost, mind – believe him as Lars throughout, despite falling into his toolkit of Ferrell-isms a little too often for my liking. Kudos to him for also using his real singing voice on the film’s foot-tapping soundtrack, which itself harkens back to Eurovision’s storied history and populist future. Less could be said of Rachel McAdams’ Sigritt, whose singing voice is replaced by Molly Sanden (a junior Eurovision representative in 2009); McAdams sports a delightful blonde hairdo and an earnestness in her performance that convicts Farrell to lift his game, which he does, and as a comedy duo the pair are unlikely yet gamely defiant, but she too often feels pushed aside in favour of her male co-star.
Their co-stars here include Pierce Brosnan as Ferrell’s on-screen father (strange considering they’re separated by only 14 years in real life), Erick, whose mysterious past provides the catalyst for Lars’ motivation to succeed, whilst Hobbit fans will recognise Mikael Persbrandt as a villainous Icelandic record producer who doesn’t want Lars and Sigritt to enter Eurovision. Chief among the supporting characters is a terrifically camp Dan Stevens, as fellow Eurovision competitor Alexander Lemtov, a flamboyant Russian singer who offers plenty of advice (both good and bad), and the gorgeous Melissanthi Mahut, as a Greek entrant who has a brief liaison with Lars at a key moment late in the movie. Sharp-eyed viewers will also spot a smattering of legitimate Eurovision talent portraying themselves (or variations thereof), including Jamala and Conchita Wurst, whilst the bulk of the secondary cast include a roster of Swedish talent such as Olafur Darri Olafsson and Bjorn Hlynur Haraldsson, to name a few.
The film runs the risk of outstaying its one-joke premise, and I would agree there’s borderline not enough material to satisfy a two-hour movie. The gags and fun and mythology poked at Swedish culture (and Eurovision in general) will land better with those familiar with the whole concept than those who aren’t as well acquainted, and several jokes pay off really well complementing those that perhaps don’t land with the same bang, but The Story of Fire Saga is an enthusiastic, if overlong comedy effort held together by Ferrell’s committed performance and some truly remarkable production value. Plus, the soundtrack contains just enough earworms to warrant a trip to iTunes for a lark: title tracks “Double Trouble”, “Happy” and “Jaja Ding Dong” will have you chuckling, whilst the Dan Stevens track – dubbed by Erik Mjones – “Lion Of Love”, is an absolute scream. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the film is indeed the music, and the attention to detail it puts in.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is an enjoyably silly romp that pays off its central gag with enough believability to overcome Ferrell’s tendency to overact and out-hamm his co-stars. Everyone involved is in on the joke and play it for all it’s worth, and you’d be horribly hard of heart to not enjoy this absolute lark for the joyous love-letter to Eurovision it is.