Eurovision: The Fire Saga - New Will Ferrell comedy comes in place of this year's song contest
David Dobkin hits some good notes, but lacks the right protagonist to carry it.
What will probably divide people who decide to spend the two hours plus on Eurovision: The Fire Saga is the expectations. Some, including myself, would love to see a satire that plays around with everything we love-hate about the longest-running televised event in Europe; the politics that is never absent from something conceived to unite us, the much-discussed voting systems, the fans...
This film - directed by The Wedding Crashers' David Dobkin - just glosses over these integral parts of Europe's relationship to Eurovision and opts for a goofy, over the top tribute. And in certain cases it makes one feel warm around the heart – the sets are good, the songs are incredibly realistic, and there is a sing-along scene that will be on repeat for most. But at other times, they are completely missing their opportunities – can you create a reality in which the UK wins Eurovision and not make one joke about this fairly unrealistic outcome?
All this is set around the journey of an Icelandic offbeat (in a couple of ways) music duo Fire Saga, made out of Lars and Sigrit, two best friends who so far have only performed at their local pub, where their most popular song is a weirdly catchy tune titled Ja Ja Ding Dong. The defining moment in the duo's lives turnes out to be the year when Waterloo won and since then their dream has been to perform at Eurovision, something that in everyone's eyes is more than unlikely. Yet, after a set of strange circumstances resembling the plot of The Producer, Fire Saga is given a chance to do just that, as they head to Edinborough.
What prevents this premise from working is the strange dynamic between Lars and Sigrit - starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Ferrell's character is completely self-centered in his obsession with this life long dream and often feels dismissive towards his partner – the only person who believes in him and is deeply in love - which makes for uneasy exchanges that do not have a place in a Will Ferrell comedy, especially when we are expected to root for this character. Instead, the star of the film and the duo is Sigrit. Rachel McAdams' more subtle performance is that one constant that works throughout and Sigrit holds the talent and the personality we are happy to stand behind, even when she demonstrates an unconditional faith in fairies.
Contrary to this, what is successful finds itself somewhere around the middle, before the film slips back into the bizarre "will they won't they". The comedy picks up when Lars and Sigrit are introduced to the people and the spirit of Eurovision, as the Russian's representative, Alexandar Lemtov – played by Dan Stevens - quickly takes them under his wing. Lemtov is a confident, sex-positive, flamboyant performer with an incredible bariton - provided by Erik Mjönes - with charm to spare and the best thing is that the film allows you to fall in love with him, avoiding the trap of villainizing him. The singer invites them to a party at his Edinborough castle, where the highlight moment takes place in the form of a sing-along sequence featuring cameos from some familiar faces – Loreen, Alexander Rybak, Conchita Wurst, Netta and other previous Eurovision performers and winners - the central stage being taken by the contest for the first time. These positives are topped with a Graham Norton appearance, a not to the host's status of the meanest and dearest commentator out there.
It is still hard to tell how well the good parts average against the not-so-good ones and thinking about it only affirms the fact that Eurovision is not a grateful subject, more so if you haven't been raised on it. Try as you may, this phenomenon is hard to capture, and even if you would want to satirize it would seem impossible when the show itself is so self-ironic. Coming from a place of appreciation, this film has more than one thing going for it, but its length and stubborn focus on the couple's strange bond makes it almost impossible to ignore the negative effect of its deeply unlikeable main character. All in all, Eurovision: Fire Saga will attract the fans of the show and those of Ferrell, and that will probably prove enough to make this film a successful venture for Netflix, as well as good marketing for the European Broadcasting Union.