‘Everyone hates the UK,’ is a recurring theme in David Dobkin’s Netflix comedy about the Eurovision Song Contest; that’s probably true, but the UK has something of the love-hate relationship with the contest itself. Once regular winners, the UK regularly scores ‘nul points’ and watching the explosions of stereotypes and camp that the content has evolved into is something of a hate-watch that arguably fuelled Brexit. But the brand is a known one, and a Eurovision movie was always likely to be popular; pairing with Will Ferrell, who has mustered regular parodies of competitions ( Blades of Glory ,Talladega Nights, Semi Pro), should provide some sweet music, or at least some laughs; they have a large, easy target for humour in their sights.
Co-written by Ferrell and exec-produced by Adam McKay, The Story of Fire Saga has been created with the blessing of Eurovision, but still manages to pack plenty of low-brow knob jokes into over two hours; that’s not a complaint, because comedy is something we’re starved of in pandemic times. But there’s also evidence in the ridiculous shenanigans that ensue that indicate Ferrell did quite a bit of research; there’s plenty of Eurovision lore riffed on, and crucially, the parody songs are pitch perfect; Icelandic band Fire Saga’s sub Sigur Ros pretentions are nailed in the opening scene, while the jaunty Jaja Ding Dong is a neat summation of the Euro-gibber that makes for a classic Eurovision song.
Ferrell never saw a spandex suit he didn’t yearn to squeeze himself into, and is in his element as Lars, a vain-glorious and super-serious Icelander who hopes to win the approval of his gruff father (Pierce Brosnan). Unrequited feeling lies behind his relationship to Sigrid (Rachel McAdams) and when a freak explosion blows away the local competition, King Ralph-style, Fire Saga travel to Edinburgh, Scotland to make up the numbers. With a little help from some elves, the underdogs come good by singing in their own language, something of a taboo in a contest where the winning country usually perform in English rather than their native language.
Richard Curtis noted that a comedy should have at least a half dozen funny scenes, and Fire Saga makes their quota early on; a song-a-long features previous winners in a farcical impromptu singing competition, and Dan Stevens is an ideal foil as pompous Russian Alexander Lemtov. Demi Lovato also scores as a haunting ghost with no useful plot-points to make; part of the fun, as usual with Ferrell, is seeing traditional rom-com plot contrivances hung out to dry. Lars’s promise to go ‘sex nuts’ while in his cups also raises a smile; Fire Saga captures the mangling that Eurovision regularly does to the English language. And there’s a throw-away gag about a man trapped in a portaloo outside Glasgow’s Hydro arena that’s genuinely hilarious. Po-faced critics will likely be tone deaf to something which aims to entertain first, but making people laugh is an art, and Ferrell’s team just-about crush it when it comes to funny.
Filmed largely in Scotland and Iceland, The Story of Fire Saga is an equal-opportunities insulter when it comes to national stereotypes. At a time when the pandemic has managed to divide the world into competing, suspicious countries, Eurovision Song Contest invites us to laugh at our own divisions; it’s funny, the songs are on point, and the whole genial package earns a ‘Jaja Ding Dong’ from this laughter-starved critic. A parody of something that’s laughable in the first place is more of a celebration than anything, and The Story of Fire Saga aptly captures the celebrated randomness of the long-running content itself.