' ' Cinema Romantico: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Monday, July 13, 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

The annual Eurovision song contest is not so much internationally lauded as laughed at, in a good way, adored for its extravagance and insanity, an American Idol on the Moon, or something. Up to a point, new Netflix comedy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” honors this spirit of excess, not merely in its theatrical song performances but in Anna B. Sheppard’s crack “Hunger Games” chic costume design, never mind Pierce Brosnan’s impressing revolving wardrobe of woolly ugly Christmas sweaters. This enormous aesthetic, however, belies a story in which childhood friends and adult bandmates Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams) fail upwards to Eurovision that comes across strangely conventional, closer to a semi-earnest Will Ferrell sports comedy than an exaggerated Nordic musical myth as that title, “Fire Saga”, suggests. Even a subplot involving Elves is rendered cute rather than off the wall while the emergent Central Bank of Iceland villain ends up feeling out of place amidst such innocence. As the movie ends, the closing credits pair each actor’s name with the flag of his/her nation, a tip of the cap to Eurovision bringing together fifty-two countries. “Eurovision”, though, ultimately feels American, perhaps explaining why Lars, a generally decent person, still spends most of the movie haranguing American tourists; guilt.

As the movie opens, young Lars is moved to dance when ABBA appears on that year’s Eurovision, though this is less triumphant than tragic, only causing Lars’s disapproving dad (Brosnan) and his beer-drinking friends to laugh, rendering Lars’s trajectory as I’ll-Show-You rather than Yes-I-Can. That fear of being laughed at, however, pertains not just to Lars but to his pops, too, which is why he semi-shuns his son, a subplot resigning Brosnan to just being unpleasant; Hannes Óli Ágústsson as a bellicose local has more to do. The public-service broadcasting organization, RÚV, meanwhile, responsible for choosing Iceland’s contestant for Eurovision, believes a promising singer (Demi Lovato) can win until fate intervenes, forcing the small nation to send Fire Saga instead, not so much hoping for the best as fearing the worst.

Fire Saga is a joke, in other words, given that their Eurovision appearance is not really merit-based, hardly up to the level of the Russian Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) who in his comical swaggering self-aggrandizement seems in every scene to have just emerged from the Winter Palace. Initially, Alexander, along with the Greek representative Mita (Melissanthi Mahut), seem like villains, luring Sigrit and Lars to a party and then separating them. True to the film’s earnest spirit, however, Alexander eventually proves a comrade, with Stevens evincing credible if comical candor despite being attired in flowing jackets with no undershirt. He is what comes between Lars and Sigrit, or at least between Sigrit’s unreciprocated affection for Lars. There is a running joke about them being mistaken for brother and sister, tying, I think, to everyone in Iceland essentially being related, but really just emblematic of how little romantic exists between the characters in the first place. Even if Lars is purposely written to resist the attraction, the performance of Ferrell, remixing his “Blades of Glory” character Chazz Michael Michaels as Craig, the Spartan Cheerleader, is entirely sexless. Director David Dobkin is asking us to simply take their would-be love at face value; I believed more readily in the Elves.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” does, at least, put in the work where their stage shows are concerned. Absurdly elaborate, involving harnesses and hamster cages, these are as much action/suspense set pieces as song performances, seeing whether or not the characters will pull it off. That feels true to the spirit of Eurovision, though, I must admit, through this reviewer’s ears, the curtain-raising “Volcano Man” was the band’s strongest number, bridging the gap between Reykjavik club and Monty Python the way “Let's Duet” bridged the gap between Robert’s Western World and “Weird Al.” The climactic ballad, on the other hand, summarizes not just Sigrit’s arc but the movie’s own tendency to play it safe.

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