Turns out that comedy superstar Will Ferrell is a genuine fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, being introduced to the beloved annual spectacle by his Swedish wife Viveca Paulin back in the nineties.
His enthusiasm for the Contest shows in his star turn in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga as exceedingly passionate Icelandic singer-songwriter, Lars Erikssong, who is captivated by Eurovision as a grief-stricken child. Co-star Rachel McAdams plays his long-time friend and fellow singer, Sigrit Eriksdottir. The pair dream of representing their country at Eurovision, but hailing from a small town and not having achieved the stardom they’d hoped for, the odds are stacked against them.
And yet, unforeseen circumstances throw the duo into the coveted limelight, setting off head-scratching from locals who have no idea who they are. Many feel their Contest chances have just been torn apart by the selection of the mysterious Fire Saga as Iceland's representatives. But for Lars and Sigrit, the gleeful magic begins, albeit with a few stumbling blocks along their way to the big stage.
There’s an intense rivalry between Lars and Russia’s contestant and Eurovision darling, Alexander Lemtov (played to sparkling theatrical effect by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens), a healthy number of romantic storylines, including between our two leads, and a gruff Pierce Brosnan as Lars’ embarrassed father.
Even if you’ve never seen Eurovision, there’s plenty to enjoy about this sequinned romp. Fans of Will Ferrell will especially love him here. He brings that balance of pathos and comedy that makes him a dramatic actor of substance. And in true Ferrell style (he’s also credited as a screenwriter and producer), this movie brings oddness (and some rather unexpected violence), mythical interludes (elves who bring their cheeky magic) and of course, comedy gold.
As it’s a co-production between Netflix and the European Broadcasting Union, who put the Contest to air each year, this movie was always going to be a loving homage rather than a parody poking fun; although, there is a good dose of the over-the-top, too. In a happenstance of perfect timing, the movie filled a gap for fans last year with the Contest being cancelled due to Covid-19.
Die-hard Eurovision fans will enjoy spotting many real-life contestants from over the years, who appear throughout, including Demi Lovato from Iceland, Portugal’s Salvador Sobral and Sweden’s John Lundvik. (If you need a hand with all the cameos, here’s a checklist.)
Desperately committed to his craft with a strong vision of how the performance of a lifetime should unfold, Lars stands to be humbled by forces outside his control as light from wider realms eventually seeps into his narrow tunnel vision. It’s fair to say that Lars and Sigrit’s journey is as epic as the Contest itself.
The Story of Fire Saga airs on SBS World Movies on Saturday 29 May at 8:30pm. Get in the mood with the offical trailer: