Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga begins just as any Eurovision fan would hope. In a small Icelandic town, Pierce Brosnan gathers with friends and family to watch ABBA’s winning performance of ‘Waterloo’ at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The power of ABBA is enough to rekindle young Lars Ericksson’s spirit, motivating his dream of one day winning the world’s biggest music competition. Unfortunately, embodying any of the unique charms of Eurovision stops here.
We quickly jump to the present, where adult Lars (Will Ferrell) practices his music with his doting partner and childhood friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams). Together, they form the titular Fire Saga. Lars has all the tropes of a superstar wannabe: an unrealized ambition, a disapproving father (Brosnan) with whom he still lives with , and an underdog status. Stereotypes of Iceland are applied to the formula, with a recurring gag that Lars and Sigrit are probably not siblings.
Though the pair have talent, their individuality is neglected by the locals and derided by those who choose Iceland’s Eurovision entry finalists. The odds are stacked. Only chance allows Fire Saga to even be considered for Iceland’s entry choice. But when an utterly ridiculous tragedy strikes the remaining finalists — including frontrunner Katiana (Demi Lovato!) — a new fate is set for Fire Saga.
The bulk of the film takes place in Edinburgh, the host city of the Song Contest. Only a handful of liberties are taken with regular Eurovision proceedings, but perhaps most outlandish is the concept of the UK winning the competition the previous year. We are now introduced to other contestants. Most important among them is Russia’s entry Alexander Letmov (Dan Stevens), a closeted gay man. The character is used by the film to critique the dire state of LGBTQ+ rights in Russia within the context of a competition that is regularly championed by the queer community. Though the final payoff encapsulates the sadness of a life not lived freely, the camp portrayal rarely exceeds a caricature. Even Stevens’ baby blue eyes, ear studs, and persistently plunging neckline can’t distract us.
Despite this, there is yet some fun to be had with the interaction of contestants. In the middle of the film is the ‘Song-Along’ (a discount Riff-Off), where previous Eurovision contestants join the cast for a flashy mash-up of ‘Waterloo’, ‘Believe’, ‘I Gotta Feeling’ and more. It’s like the star-studded ‘Deewangi Deewangi’ dance number in the middle of Om Shanti Om, though in this instance all cameos are dwarfed by an appearance of Eurovision giant Jon Ola Sand.
Aside from the Eurovision staples – such as a giant hamster wheel, pyrotechnics and an abundance of glitter –The Story of Fire Saga’s enjoyment runs short. The simple progression in the competition forms a predictable structure, which is needlessly stretched across two hours to account for the turbulence in Lars and Sigrid’s creative and romantic journey. This main pair finds footing in their chemistry, with McAdams’ sincerity as Sigrit doing the heavy lifting. But it’s not enough to save the film, which suffers from a lack of style and can’t resist the urge to throw in a speedy race across Edinburgh before the big finale.
Ultimately, The Story of Fire Saga has neither the ability to match the excitement, glamour, and sincerity of Eurovision, nor parody the contest in an effective way. The humor simply isn’t there. A dark subplot involving an attempt to derail Iceland’s chances at success provides an edge, but this gets lost within the main story. There would only be benefit from leaning further into this dark theatricality and the supernatural elements that come with it (Katiana’s reappearance as a fiery, armless apparition couldn’t happen sooner).
The American perspective as an outsider to Eurovision puts it in the perfect position to balance sincerity with parody. But the result is unimaginative. The cancellation of this year’s iteration of the Song Contest because of the coronavirus pandemic left a void that is just too big for The Story of Fire Saga to fill. At best, Eurovision fans will have a new song or two to add to their playlist, because this film is unlikely to entice people to whom the contest remains an unknown oddity. Maybe Fire Saga can try again next year (but hopefully not).