Published Jun 26, 2020In the first moments of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, we're shown a gathering of rugged Icelanders watching ABBA's performance of "Waterloo" at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which went on to become a global hit and launched ABBA's international career. It's a cute and memorable moment, one that The Story of Fire Saga tries desperately to replicate across its two hour runtime but ultimately falls well short.
Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) are small-town Icelandic musicians and childhood friends who spend their time toiling away in dingy fishing village taverns as a duo, Fire Saga, annoying the locals with their kitschy brand of European pop. After an unexpected tragedy launches the group into the representative position for their native Iceland, the film follows Lars and Sigrit as they compete for the winning slot against some of Europe's (and the world's) best musical acts.
Written and produced by Ferrell and others, with director David Dobkin (Shanghai Knights, Wedding Crashers) behind the camera, The Story of Fire Saga hits all the recognizable comedy beats of the Ferrell canon: the protagonist buffoon, the endearing female lead, the recognizably improvised dialogue, a few gross-out gags and cheap laughs, some situational physical comedy, and a host of inconsequential celebrity cameos. In truth, one feels a weird sense of 2000s déjà vu in watching The Story of Fire Saga: a little Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby here, a little Blades of Glory there, and even some manic Hot Rod energy thrown in for good measure. Sadly, however, Ferrell is past his peak here, and despite the great chemistry between him and McAdams, the film only manages a few fleeting chuckles.
The film's first act generates the best material, with jokes that are often at the expense of Icelandic people and culture, wringing the most it can out of casual incest, elvish folktales, and postcard scenic moments (although the CG humpback whales are a bit much). Pierce Brosnan has a suitably droll turn as Lars' unimpressed and perpetually disappointed father, Erick Erickssong. Dan Stevens is cast in the role of the villain Alexander Lemtov, but it's clear that he's having far too much fun to be a real threat, as he plays an intensely masculine and extremely camp Russian playboy and "sex player". Meanwhile, pop star Demi Lovato appears briefly as fellow Icelandic singer Katiana, and Graham Norton shows up to play, well, himself.
While the film's pacing does sag noticeably in the middle and feels achingly long in the tooth by the time it arrives at a very obvious finale, perhaps the most savage indictment of The Story of Fire Saga is just how much the whole thing feels like one giant ad for Eurovision itself. And considering that the release of the film was originally intended to coincide with the now-cancelled 2020 contest, that connection feels even more on the nose. All that being said, watching Ferrell rip into obnoxious American tourists in 2020 with a charmingly fake Icelandic accent will never not be funny, so we must take some pleasure in the little things. (Netflix)