Editorials & Opinion

REVIEW: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

We review the much anticipated/dreaded Eurovision movie (delete as applicable)

**SPOILER ALERT: This article will contain spoilers of the plot of the film**

It’s finally here! The initially mysterious ‘Eurovision movie’ is now available to stream on Neflix. We, the ESCXTRA Team, rushed to our devices to watch the film as soon as possible. We’ve watched, we’ve discussed, and now we’re ready to judge…

Having been developed for decades, filmed over the past two years and delayed by an additional month, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is finally here! Now, we didn’t know what exactly to expect, but this is undoubtedly a big step for the contest. With Netflix investing in the Eurovision brand, we are perhaps looking at a future with far more interest in the contest outside of Europe (particularly in North America) than ever. OR it’ll have no impact whatsoever and we’ll all seek to forget it. Only time will tell.

Early signs are positive, the film has been well-promoted by Netflix upon release and should introduce the contest to some new viewed. Further, the song “Husavik” already gathering some momentum in streaming and iTunes downloads. Irrespective of our views on the film itself, we all [mostly] agreed that we’re happy the film exists.

The origin story

In a recent interview, Will Ferrell delved deeper into the 20-year origin story of the film. He first discovered the contest when visiting his wife’s Swedish family back in 1999:

My wife has family in Sweden. Our first trip there would have been the spring of ’99, and we were out in the countryside at their little summer cabin, and her cousin said ‘So, shall we sit down and watch Eurovision?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I guess. What’s that?’

Will Ferell explaining how he discovered Eurovision

He continued

I watched mesmerised for the entire three hours. Ironically, that year a Swede won: Charlotte Nilsson. I was just blown away by the spectacle, the camp. Everything you guys [in the UK] are used to, we didn’t have anything like that, in America. I literally went, ‘That would make a great movie.’

Will Ferell speaking to Total Movie

In anticipation of the release of the film, Netflix acquired the rights to broadcast the 2019 edition of the contest last July. They also acquired the rights to the 2020 contest, but for obvious reasons, we won’t be expecting that to turn up on the platform any time soon. It was reported that Netflix were sponsoring Iceland’s participation for the 2020 contest. Currently, we do not know if this sponsorship will carry over into next year’s contest.

Our thoughts

Costa: Stan Mita Xenakis

Like a lot of fans, unfortunately, I went into this film expecting to hate it. However, despite its faults…I…enjoyed it? To be frank, my expectations were low, but there was a charm and heart to the film that I was not expecting at all. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise. 

The film is WAY too long. Point blank, period, etc. This film has no right being over 2 hours long. I feel this is a by-product of it being a Netflix movie, wherein there is less of a need to cut scenes. Honestly, I could have done without the initial 30 minute chunk of the film set in Iceland. 

However, the film picks up once they get to the contest. Aside from the Glee-but-less-cursed montage of Eurovision stars (featuring a particularly meaty cameo from Moldova’s own Anna Odobescu). Let me not go a second longer without singing the praises of Hellenic Goddess and icon Mita Xenakis, who perfectly captured the nuance of the kind of starlet fans like me go wild for every year. ERT and CyBC, I hope you’re taking notes. 

I felt that Alexander and Mita’s arcs were handled well; I enjoyed seeing them help develop the protagonists’ characters without being 2D ‘exotic villains’. Their scene towards the end was oddly touching.

Mita aside, the star of the film was Rachael McAdams (feat. Molly Sandén), who was incredible. Despite the stakes for the film being…low, I found myself fully invested in Sigrit’s journey. I also want to give a special mention to Jamie and Natasia Demetrio in the rehearsal scenes, who both nailed Eurovision cliches and captured the nuances I was looking for.

I think the moment I was won over was during the performance of “Húsavík”, when one of the Icelandic viewers in the town pub says ‘she’s singing in Icelandic!’ and they all cheer. For me that captured the spirit of the contest better than I ever thought it could. I even teared up.

Sean: Why?

I watched the movie with some friends, and I definitely have things to say, most of which aren’t laudatory.

First off there were two things that I feared would happen with this film. I was afraid that it would be two hours of “haha look how funny the Europeans talk,” and that there would be a bunch of jokes in poor taste, as is the case with most of Will Ferrell’s filmography. Both turned out to be true. Especially when it came to the latter. Multiple weird incest jokes, a character seemingly sexually assaulting another, and a weird joke about the American opioid crisis even when fellow Demi Lovato is a survivor of heroin use come to mind. Other jokes were just lazy, immature, or not that funny.

None of the characters are likable, and by the end of it I didn’t care about the outcome of any of the characters. Of course we knew that the movie was not going to be factually accurate, but there really was no excuse for it to be this far away from reality. While some parts were definitely ignored for the purposes of driving the plot forward, like the fact that they definitely would’ve gotten an opportunity to redo their semifinal performance due to their “technical difficulty,” so many facts were wrong that did not need to be wrong, which probably ticks me off more. There’s really no excuse other than no one really bothered to do the research. The music, whether purposely or otherwise, was bad, and while “Húsavik” is clearly the best song on the track, I think it only feels great because it’s surrounded by real dirge. On its own, it’s just a plain, by the numbers ballad.

The sole highlight for me was the song along part with all of the cameos. My friends and I all agreed that that was the saving grace of this entire movie. Especially for me, since seeing so many artists that I love like Conchita, Jamala, and Elina Nechayeva (to name a few), together. I will also say, out of all of the characters, I think Sigrit was the most tolerable. Where Will Ferrell seemed to flop, Rachel McAdams pulled both of their weights. Molly Sandén should also be commended for a great vocal performance.

In short, this is not the “next best thing” to the canceled Eurovision 2020. This is not a “gift to the fans,” especially American fans that have gotten screwed over by the EBU’s handling of the viewing rights since 2016, but think a half-baked Will Ferrell movie will suffice. I will say, they got the mail on the head with one line in particular: God damn Americans.

EDIT: I forgot to add how the “Russian antagonist” cliche in American movies is tired and overdone (and a little propagandistic).

Lisa: Be more Anna Odobescu!

If you go into this with the enthusiasm Anna gave her 20 seconds of screen time you’ll enjoy it. This is not a true to life documentary. Just switch your brain off for two hours and enjoy the escapism. If you’re familiar with Will’s past works like Blades of Glory, then you’ll know what to expect.

You can tell they did their research into all the aspects of the contest. Many have forgotten the art of parody in judging Fire Saga. Parodies are meant to ham up the source material and deliberately get all the details wrong. However the slapstick comedy could have slapped more here. Eurovision is meant to be over the top. Some parts of the film did have issue with pacing and too many side plots not developed.

However the best parts of the film are clearly the cameos and the music. Why did Molly Sandén use a pseudonym? Girl claim those royalties with your real name, you’re going global! I’m ready for Molly doing with ‘Husavik’ what Lady Gaga did with ‘Shallow’ during awards season. Also can’t wait to shout “play ‘Jaja Ding Dong’” at the next non-socially distanced event!

Overall it’s fun, doesn’t take itself seriously and is watched with friends to make the most of the knowing references together. I’d give this a solid 6/10.

Nathan P: Can Greece and Russia unite?

Imagine being Demi Lovato getting paid that much coin to perform 35 seconds of a good song to get killed off and return as a CGI character and being part of barely 5% of the film’s runtime. This was probably the most iconic part of the film for me! She even had the best gag with her arm being blown off!

Apart from that I feel that this film would be at least douze times more enjoyable if Will wasn’t part of it! I feel his character went through no real progression by being childish throughout. Sigrit had a fully fleshed out character and was vulnerable and obviously having the second best gag of the film by being caught up in Mariya Yaremchuk’s iconic hamster wheel (thank you Ukraine for being the staging queens that you are!).

I loved when we got all the former alumi together to do the medley of classics like Believe and obviously we got the Madonna tie in with Ray Of Light for a brilliant Sing-A-Long. How gorgeous did Loreen, Elina Nechayeva, Jamala and Anna Odobescu look! I found the fact that Anna Ou was part of this hilarious!

I actually found all the parts of the film that wasn’t based at the contest were the better parts of the film. The graphics were poor, the scoreboard was poor, the themeing was poor. I mean come on, why are we using the old Eurovision logo? Who was hosting, because the arena was in the UK yet the hosting was some ambiguous Eastern European presentation? I wasn’t expecting total accuracy, but get something right! Can we talk about how stunning Iceland looks?! The cinematography when it came to the landscape shots were stunning, the CGI Whales were not needed though, but the part where the glacier broke did arouse a giggle.

To me the stars of the show who to me drove the plot more than anoyone were Alexander Lemtov and Mita Xenakis (who might as well had been called Eleni Foureira because she was a spit of the Hellenic Goddess). They had the visable chemistry that Lars and Sigrit did not have, and Mita asking Alexander to move to Greece with her was just asking for their adventures to be a sequal, and I’d watch that a thousand times over like it was going out of fashion! Alexander was percieved to be the villain, but was far from it. He allowed Sigrit to come out of her shell and Sigrit retuned the favour by helping Alexander come out of his shell and not the one he built and guilded himself like a Faberge Egg. Mita allowed Lars to discover how much he loved Sigrit.

Molly Sandén was a star for singing so much of this movie and Húsavik deserves the success it will receive.

This film lacked a real Eurovision conclusion, the biggest one of all was the most important one! WHO WON THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST?!

Tom: Ja Ja Ding Dong!

At the start of the film, I was worried that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. The start of the film is a little slow, and the storyline is a bit ropey. But as the film goes on, it just gets better and better. It’s what you’d expect from Will Ferrell on the comedy side of it but at the same time it really captures the spirit of Eurovision and I couldn’t help but smile all the way through. In a year where we didn’t have the actual contest, we get a film that – though many fans were not sure about it – really highlights why we all love Eurovision. Music and love wins always, regardless of who you are. And the soundtrack… It’s going to be on repeat for a couple of days for sure, “Husavík” sure did nearly bring a tear to my eye. Fantastic movie! Just one small gripe… We know Pierce Brosnan can’t sing (if you haven’t seen Mamma Mia, make sure you have earplugs for Brosnan’s solo) and now we discover he can’t do accents either. Good job everyone loved him as Bond!!

Bente: Desperate times call for slightly enjoyable movies

The story is set in Iceland, where apparently everyone speaks with an accent that can be called ‘from somewhere in Europe but we are not sure where’. When Lars and his friend Sigrit are grown up, the movie has us believe that they are the same age. Unfortunately, Lars looks like he could be Sigrit’s father. The beginning of the movie is a bit slow, but I liked the views of Iceland and the sense of community that was shown. The reason that Fire Saga can attend the contest seems very far-fetched, but then again, what should we expect from a Will Ferrell movie?

Eventually, Fire Saga find themselves in Edinburgh, Scotland for Eurovision. This suggests that the United Kingdom won the previous year, which is honestly the most unrealistic part of the entire movie. However, later in the movie the hosts of the show are speaking in an accent that does not sound British. I just assumed that in this fictional universe, a country like Montenegro won and asked the UK to take over their host responsibilities.

The movie is a bit slow in the middle, but it does have some of the best scenes: we are introduced to the Russian and Greek representatives, who are both great. The best scene was the one that was created for the Eurovision fans, where familiar faces like Alexander Rybak and Loreen party with the main characters. I found myself rooting for Iceland, but this was all due to Rachel McAdams’ performance as Sigrit. I found her a likeable character, especially compared to Lars, who was just plain annoying the whole movie. However, the performances that were shown were clearly based on the idea that the whole contest is a joke, an attitude that was more significant 10 years ago.

All in all, the movie is not great, but I expected much worse. The spirit of the contest is captured quite nicely and some of the actors made their character likeable. The songs were not bad and I like the idea that Eurovision is getting more global recognition. The jokes were cheesy, the accents were cringe-worthy, the romance was disturbing, and there were definitely some details missing, but as a suffering Eurovision fan, I’ll take what I can get.

Ryan: Utterly heartwarming

Like many Eurovision fans, I was extremely concerned when hearing the news of a comedy movie based around the Eurovision Song Contest. Would they set the image of the contest back 20 years? Would it make Eurovision a laughing stock? Thankfully, this has largely turned out not to be the case. The storyline is heartwarming, the character of Sigrit in particular is extremely likeable and Ferrell captures the essence of Eurovision nicely. If I could name an improvement, I wish the other songs contesting this fictional contest were of a higher quality and not so dated but Demi Lovato’s In The Mirror and Will Ferrell and Molly Sandén’s Husavik are both fantastic. The “Song-A-Long” featuring several Eurovision stars is a lovely highlight and symbolises the fact that this movie celebrates rather than mimicks the contest we love. This film will give you goosebumps and a tear in your eye as well as several laughs. Fantastic!

Tim: A mixed bag

When I first heard that a Eurovision movie was being made, I, like the majority of the Eurovision fandom, was really nervous. We know that America and the Eurovision Song Contest does not always marry up nicely in one sentence.

As a member of the Eurovision fan community, I could just go on about the inaccuracies that the film had. From the fact that Sigrit and Lars looked unprepared in their first dress rehearsal, to the fact that Graham Norton is commentating a semi-final. My Eurovision brain was not able to switch itself off when I saw these inaccuracies throughout the film.

On the flip side, I liked the emotional depth in some of the scenes. The main one being when Sigrit and Lars had an argument after their disastrous performance at the semi and Sigrit said:

I am going to go into that artists’ area because I am an artist.

And when I see that no votes come in for us, I’m going to sit there and I’m going to take it, because I know I am more than this contest.

This line really hits home to a lot of the artists, especially as not every participant managed to reach the Grand Final, and even if they do, not everyone will manage to achieve a great result.

Despite my mixed recpetion towards the movie, it is a good production, and they are able to introduce the movie to a wider audience in a way where it wouldn’t be seen much as a joke.

Borislava: Delivers all the ham and cheese we would expect of it

From the get-go, Fire Saga hits us in the face with all the earnestness and heart that we love the Eurovision Song Contest for. There are just enough references for every hardcore fan to recognise, from previous contestants showing up for a “song-along” to references made to previous iconic performances through the contest. For those who are just getting acquainted with the contest or are more casual watchers, the plot is about as easily enjoyable as any romcom, set in Europe and created by Americans. The short appearance of Natasia Demetriou as Nina is always welcome, as she uses her trademark dry humour to bring her short scenes to life. Most important of all however, all the love and affection that the creators have for the contest is evident in every scene in the film, as well as the soundtrack. Now, let me queue up Husavik on Spotify.

Nathan W: Enjoyable comedy, but not a rewatchable Ferrell classic

A wholesome rom-com with laughs in the right places, The Story of Fire Saga hits the nail on the head with each Eurovision performance stereotype portrayed. Whilst the first 30 minutes could easily have been binned to make a more concise and vastly funnier film, overall there is an enjoyably sweet story at the heart of it. It is also worth saying that the Eurovision entries are not half bad: particularly Demi Lovato’s effort and the final, starring performance of the film. If Sweden has a huge desire to win Eurovision again in 2021, Molly Sandén should be a shoe-in after her exceptional vocal performance throughout the film. Arguably not as quotable or rewatchable as Will Ferrell classics Elf and Anchorman, but it is still a well produced and enjoyable film, punctuated with the All Star singalong in the middle.

Nick: Never enough of Fire Saga

The idea of Will Ferrell doing a movie about a topic I love was… scary. His main business is mocking things. So, I went into the movie with low expectations, but I was proven wrong. Very, very wrong, actually. Obviously this film does not represent the actual reality of the Eurovision Song Contest, looking at several details in there, such as the jury points in the semifinal. But Ferrell knows his audience, that’s for sure. To the casual viewer, the sudden appearance of John Lundvik or Jessy Matador will not ring a bell, but it does for us fans. The fact that, aside from ‘Waterloo’, they included ‘Ne Partez Pas Sans Moi’ in the song-along and used Eurovision powerhouses Greece and Russia as countries with a character, shows that they know their business. The small references to how Americans often see the contest, were amusing. The predictability of endless disaster throughout the movie, as well as the romance, only added to the subtle slapstick. It gave me a smile from start to finish. Originally trying to depict Aleksander Lemtov as the villain of the show, The Story Of Fire Saga actually makes the clever transition to show Lars Erickssón as one of the bad guys as well – often walking out, making unnecessary remarks or changes. Sigrit Ericksdóttir obviously is the star of this music – and with that, Molly Sandén. Details aside, the storyline should appeal to us fans as well: Two smalltown, local singers fight for their dream and end up realising it. The fact that it’s Iceland, a country so Eurovision minded without a single victory so far, makes the story complete. When two Icelandic singers, ridiculed and laughed at, try to get to Eurovision and do so, with a grande finale to finish the show. “Husavik” as a song is, dare I say, reminiscent of “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams have, with a wink to the contest and a smile on their faces, given me goosebumps and a major smile. This was a fantastic watch. I’d rate this a 9/10.

Our live review

You can watch our recent live review with Bente, Costa, Dom, Nick and Tim below:

What did you think of the film? Who from our team did you agree with? Let us knowBe sure to stay updated by following @ESCXTRA on Twitter@escxtra on Instagram and liking our Facebook page for the latest updates! Also, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see our reactions to the over the coming months.

One Comment

  1. FYI: Η ηθοποιος που υποδυεται την Mita Xenakis λεγεται Melissanthi Mahut (Μελισσάνθη Μάχουτ) ελληνίδα με Καναδική ριζα. Θα την ξερει ο κοσμος ως Kassandra απο το Assassins\’ Creed Odyssey

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