Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga
"There's a very clear fondness here for the subject matter."

In a year without either a Eurovision Song Contest or open cinemas this might seem an odd choice, but refrain from scorn. You may have doubts about the presence of Will Ferrell, but he's a talent who has on more than one occasion managed to straddle the line between reference and reverence. I was moved, genuinely, when President Business was revealed to be a father struggling with change, and just like then Ferrell surprises here.

Those who follow Eye For Film on social media will know of my aversion to sleep, my love for both staging and snark, and the Eurovision Song Contest provides more than a little bit of all of them. Ferrell is Lars Erickssong, son of the Pierce Brosnan's Erick Erickssong. Both are as uncomfortable with the truth as Tom Pillibi, but their lies are not of castles, though Erickssong (just 15 years) senior is as much of a ladies' man. Lars dreams of Eurovision succession and the approval of his father, but as us lovers of cinema will tell you, obstacles will create story.

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Rachel McAdams is Sigrit Ericksdottir, and while jokes about possible shared parentage to complicate their first love(s) are amusing they ignore the existence of Iceland's sui generis 'are we related' app, a handy part of dating life that can spare one of the consequences of consanguinity for perhaps the standard network rate within the length of (perhaps a remix) of a dance song.

I'm not old enough to remember when Iceland joined Eurovision, but the eastward expansion of the Eurovision broadcast group (there's more to Eurovision than the Song Contest...) changed the politics markedly. More than subtly referenced by Dan Stevens as Russian playboy Alexander Lemtov. Beyond a geographically improbable mansion and a sculpted look that recalls a wax doll, rag doll abandon with others' emotions that suggests other, more dangerous, liaisons, he has, in Lion Of Love, an absolute banger of a tune.

The clear and extensive co-operation of the Eurovision Song Contest diaspora is present, to a depth that could not be met by any mere 'thank you.' Darling performers of recent years are present in numbers, among scores of other familiar faces. In the middle of a 'Song-A-Long' both real and fictional contestants, winners well represented, puppets on a string of lyrics, La La Las co-written by a slew of names. Though Netflix does not want you to, watch the credits, there's a song and there are plenty of folk there. In the credits are another story, one of those at the party presumably shot elsewhere and composited in, and that leads to another story.

One day a child might ask you "why do people get annoyed about geography in movies" and you can explain that it's because Glasgow's SEC Hydro isn't in walking distance of Edinburgh's Royal Mile, that the impact a troubadour may have on their audience isn't as drastic as there being through CGI a mansion between Calton Hill and Princes Street, that live singing doesn't let you drive up Cockburn Street, even if the Avengers can recommend you a kebab shop, or that sleeping policemen and cobbles shot from a tracking boom bang autobahn sensibilities out as robustly as they'd permanently damage suspension of disbelief. Not just of map-based kennings of the somehow unheimlich, all kinds of everything are slightly off-kilter here.

But in truth in works. Oh, those of us not in Edinburgh for the Film Festival might remark upon the misplacement of a given branch of a bank, a tree, a street, but after you get used to that there's a bigger question raised by ESC rules. If the event is in Edinburgh, you'll recognise yourself that this means that the UK won the year before or someone else really didn't want to host it. There are liberties taken with the scoring system, Graham Norton's given the opportunity to talk over songs by the script, not an inadvertent hot mike. Director David Dubkin has a background in both comedy and music videos and co-writer Andrew Steele is an SNL alum (as is Ferrel who also pens), but it also seems that Eurovision's input extends beyond lending the production the stage that is also a screen.

Waterloo might be the first winner that we see - a young Lars making a vow before the mighty ABBA - but it's far from the only one. Leaning into the oddity of having an American and a Canadian playing the parts of contestants in a competition whose global appeal is as much region- as queer- coded, there are some pretty good attack lines. I'm fond particularly of the notion of chilli corn dogs and have I think figured out how to assemble them myself (pro-tip - it involves a Wal*Mart derivative).

There's some absurdity - in the throbbing vein of Ding A Dong is Jaja Ding Dong and if that's not a karaoke staple soon then you don't have the right drunken encouragement. The transition in costumes between the fantastic Volcano Man and its garage remix is properly entertaining, and even though folk are regularly lowered from the gods the deus ex machina is a lot closer to the ground. While I rattle on about geography, Iceland's landscapes are well served, but those who know their craggy islands will find more than the rocks familiar.

There's a romantic plot (of course!) which relies on kisses not being saved for the right person, but Ferrell and McAdams give performances robust enough that the eyes of a child could pick up the subtexts. A barium, nickel and bismuth cocktail will generate some measure of chemistry, but is unlikely to form an unalloyed success. There are so many elements here that some things are going to suffer, but there are many that will have fans of the contest say 'Hallelujah!'. For a competition that's now in its seventh decade, what's another year between finals? Certainly with this as a substitute those missing the contest shouldn't need help making their mind up.

A little piece of you might be wondering why this review is so long. It's in part because this is a work that grabs low-hanging fruit in an entertaining way while leaving higher citrus un-troubled. Sub-lime and ridiculous. If life is a gift then this film has it in abundance - though its origins have the whiff of alchemy, even cynical opportunism, a Frankensteinian transAtlantic hipster panculturalism that suggests it's not impossible to dig aloo, dig LA - and that plenty is why I've rattled on. This is fun, genuinely so, and if your disbelief can be suspended let it swing. There's a very clear fondness here for the subject matter, and if you possess any for the contest yourself you should give it a go. This isn't quite a substitute for the real thing, not quite a heroine and certainly not a method one, but it will, as at least one song goes, do do do.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2020
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Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga packshot
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.

Director: David Dobkin

Writer: Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele

Starring: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Mikael Persbrandt, Pierce Brosnan, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Demi Lovato, Graham Norton

Year: 2020

Runtime: 123 minutes

Country: US

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