06 July 2020
Two Icelandic singers, one dream and almost zero chance of it happening. That’s the basis of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga and the best feel-good movie in a long time. In a funny, chaotic and emotional ride, childhood friends Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir from the small town of Husavik transform themselves from national embarrassments to national heroes and learn the most important lesson about Eurovision itself.
The film is cast wonderfully with Will Ferrell playing Lars and Rachel McAdams playing Sigrit. Both are inspired into music by watching Sweden’s ABBA win Eurovision in 1974 with Waterloo. Lars’ widowed father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) never approves of his son’s unrealistic dream, so the film becomes as much about winning over his father as it does about winning Eurovision. After Fire Saga miraculously find themselves at the Eurovision Song Contest, the next step is reaching the final, and there to help is Russia’s entrant, Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens) and the seductive Greek entrant, Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut). After struggling through early rehearsals with a new mix of their song, Double Trouble, and, let’s say, some confrontational choreography, Lemtov would inspire Sigrit to find her spirit voice and Mita would help restore Lars’ confidence. It worked. Fire Saga began to enchant the audience… and that’s as far as it goes otherwise we’re into spoiler territory.
At two hours long, there are a few flat spots in the film, especially in the first half. They are negated by the frequent hilarious moments and superb music, and a memorable semi final performance by Fire Saga and the emotional conclusion. While Eurovision fans will delight in the many cameos (Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva brought a small tear as my late mother loved her and we played La Forza at her funeral), no doubt they’ll pick up on some errors. Notably Sweden had 7 people on stage and Spain was in the semi final. Other errors were more for dramatic effect, notably the points of the semi final results were read out. Eurovision held in Edinburgh seemed odd in that, during the house party, Lemtov told Sigrit no one likes the United Kingdom and they always get zero points. Obviously not every year otherwise they’d not have won 2019 in order to host 2020.
Spoiler warning, two parts of the story simply didn’t work. The first being the financial controller who feared if Iceland ever won Eurovision it would bankrupt the country. As it looked like Fire Saga might do the impossible, that led him to trying to kill Lars. Of course, Lars being back in Iceland at this time and only learning of the semi final result once out on his father’s fishing boat was just as ridiculous. The movie would have been better served without the sub-plot of the financial controller, and Lars should have learned of the semi final result at Edinburgh Airport. If there was a need to show him forsaken as a fisherman, that could have been done early in the film to further highlight his failing dream. There was also a recurring theme that Lars and Sigrit were brother and sister. With a last name Ericksdottir (Erick’s daughter) and Erick apparently a player in town, were they?
One of the most important roles in the film was of someone unseen: Swedish singer, Molly Sanden. She represented Sweden at Junior Eurovision in 2006, has tried three times to reach the senior version (the last in 2016), and was the voice behind Sigrit’s singing voice. Both she and McAdams would sing the song and it was mixed together in the studio. Even through this mixing, you can hear the rich texture of Molly’s voice that provides the magic. This is most notable with Husavik (My Home Town) that Molly said immediately gave her goosebumps and is good enough to win the real Eurovision. She’s right, too. A shame it can’t enter.
The enduring part of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is it captures so much that is the essence of the real Eurovision Song Contest. From the eclectic collection of artists and songs from all over Europe (Moon Fang, Hit My Itch and Lion Of Love anyone?), to the highly choreographed stage productions, to the crazy costumes and props, and to the journey that many artists take. Many do start as virtual unknowns before finding themselves thrust into instant fame, and some (Finland’s Lordi the most notable) fill their home country with national pride after initial fears of national embarrassment. Most of all, and this is the lesson Lars and Sigrit finally learn at the end. Eurovision is not about winning at all costs. It’s about being true to yourself. It’s about the music.