Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga ★★★★

I’m sure there are people all around who didn’t find this particularly funny, but I suspect if you grew up with the Eurovision Song Contest and came into this with some background on what makes the annual competition what it is, you’ll find something of value here. Will Ferrell has been a fan for decades and done meticulous behind-the-scenes research over the past few years to get a better grasp on the point of view of the artists. He ultimately gets it and while I will never be completely sold on his particular brand of predictable humor, I respect his handling of the material and his sincere passion for the music that earned the film an on the surface amusing, but unequivocally deserved Oscar nomination for a song that if the Academy has any semblance of balls will take home the trophy. If recent history is any indicator, they do give preference to songs that are organically incorporated into the plot, like “City of Stars” and “Shallow”, as opposed to last-minute afterthoughts most viewers won’t even get to hear because they are already on their way out of the theater (I always get a laugh out of the thought that Academy members might refuse to vote for these songs on principle, because they are pissed that they are forced to sit through the end credits). “Husavik” is a ballad in the tradition of showstopping climactic success stories performed by likeable underdogs and that might just make this the unlikely favorite. It’s just too bad we likely won’t get to see it performed live due to the limited scope of the show this year.

But that’s not even the only song deserving of kudos. Hell, you could have filled the entire damn category from pieces just from this soundtrack, which clocks in at a breezy 42 minutes and I highly recommend. Alexander Lemtov’s erotic anthem “Lion of Love”, reminiscent of a demented take on Duran Duran’s “Hungry like the Wolf”, is so bizarrely flamboyant that it’s hard to make it clear to uninitiated viewers that this type of performance actually comes pretty damn close to you might see at a real contest, even if it’s unlikely it would have come from the Russians. The weird thing about Will Ferrell movies is that the villains often have a point. Which doesn’t take much if the hero you are supposed to be rooting for is a selfish man-child and sore loser (in many ways Ferrell recycles the basic premise of “Talladega Nights” here, including the father as a primary motivator for his competitive drive). Lemtov is a narcissistic douche, who presents statues sporting his face on them as “Ancient Greek”, but isn’t wrong when he says that Lars will likely never be content until he has universal adoration and it’s naïve to think he will suddenly reciprocate Sigrid’s feelings after the contest. It’s a little uncomfortable how frequently Ferrell makes use of the wealthy, oversexed gay European as the bad guy, but Dan Stevens gives 110% here and is never entirely unlikeable. Maybe it’s because he throws awesome parties at his Scottish castle.

You can tell when a film, especially a comedy, is a soulless patchwork thrown together by people who couldn’t have cared less about the story they were telling. Will Ferrell has starred in some of those. Which is why it’s so apparent that this isn’t one of them and probably explains why this has grown on me even more over the past few days since I watched it. If a film keeps me engaged with its leads and story, I don’t necessarily need to burst out laughing every minute to score it highly. Some of the jokes are admittedly a little lazy, mainly the repeated suggestion that Sigrid might be Lars’s sister (Icelandic last names are patronymic, which means since they are both named after Eric, it may or may not be the same one). And the horrible twist that sends Fire Saga to Edinburgh is so ghoulishly mean-spirited that it’s kind of hard to be too happy for them. That said, Demi Lovato is admirably game as the heavy favorite to represent Iceland at the contest, until circumstances I won’t spoil here prevent that from happening.

It all keeps coming back to two weirdos from a tiny town (which really exists by the way) being thrown in the big leagues and despite all the mishaps on and off stage are welcomed with mostly open arms. Lars finds an admirer in the Greek representative Mita Xenakis (who also has one hell of a catchy song in her arsenal) and Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens have the kind of whacky chemistry that makes me want to see them pair up in another comedy down the road. On the whole, it might be the most pleasant surprise of any 2020 release. Part of me is glad I only saw it now, with the knowledge that it’s getting recognition where it matters, but I’m kind of bummed that I slept on this when it came out last summer.

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