An Icelandic pop duo get a shot at musical glory in the year's most unexpectedly joyful film - a return to form for star Will Ferrell
It is a tall feat for a film to make you yearn for a moment you never knew you cared for in the first place. It can be an event, a person, a location – or everything at once. Here it’s Eurovision, the landmark so present in so many lives, which never quite felt so immediately and deliberately entertaining as it does in Netflix's new musical comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.
From the sleepy living rooms of Iceland in 1974, to pubs just as sleepy in the present day, Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Lars and Sigrit, better known as Fire Saga: lifelong friends (“probably” not siblings, despite everyone’s suspicions), they're an unlikely but immediately convincing double act hellbent on one day winning Eurovision. They practice in Lars’ garage, to the dismay of his father Erick (that’s Pierce Brosnan, who everyone does make a point of calling handsome), and perform at their local bar. They want to sing “Volcano Man” and “Double Trouble,” but their audience only ever wants “Jaja Ding Dong” and a cover of Pharrell’s “Happy.”
This tracklist establishes just how well director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers) captures the shameless, infectious spirit of Eurovision. Somewhere between a village fête and a theme park, the sound of Fire Saga is bouncy and enthusiastic, often embarrassing, but never insincere. They’re perfectly played by McAdams and Ferrell too – she, always a welcome presence, is magnetic and enthralling, while he, after a decade of misfires, reminds us why we found him funny in the first place.
The band’s ambition kicks into overdrive when a freak accident propels them from being the underdogs to the only option – they’ll have to represent Iceland at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. And so their world – and the film – explodes with gloriously garish lights, endless poppy vibratos, and Dan Stevens sporting a Russian accent and a song about the sexual energy of lions.
The execution is as kitsch as the description, but paced with such boisterous energy and unapologetic farce that it feels impossible to do anything but just cheer along. McAdams and Ferrell commit to every joke with deadpan resolve. Skits about genitalia and fizzy drinks, which sound ghastly on paper, are delivered brilliantly with furrowed brows, megawatt smiles, and full-body choreographies.
Beyond the theatrics, Eurovision thrives on the precision-engineered madness of the music on offer. The film grasps every nuance of the competition’s chaos – the songs that are too sexy, too satanic, painfully wholesome, questionably edgy, every one as camp as the next.
This high-octane entertainment works and plays so hard you'll wind up laughing and crying without realising, as if these reactions were being unwittingly pulled from you by the film's severely determined performers. Two moments do major heavy lifting in this regard: a gleeful Eurovision back-catalogue mashup singalong (dubbed a “song-a-long,” epitomising how simple and silly the film’s humour is), and Fire Saga’s breathtaking final performance that will come to change everything.
Nothing should work, but everything does. And perhaps that’s because the film feels so much like the competition itself: an oddity we choose to forget, until we remember all the reasons why we have no choice but to love it.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is streaming on Netflix from June 26.Where to watch