WORTH A LOOK?: ****1/2
OUT now on Netflix
This film is well-timed because in the 65-year history of the Eurovision Song Contest it has been held annually apart from 2020 when Covid-19 caused its cancellation.
- Read on for reasons including why we shed a little tear at this film’s surprising and moving conclusion
Not only does it fill a gaping hole of demand but its concentration on the story of Icelandic singers Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdóttir comes in a year when many people had tipped Iceland’s Daði Freyr as their potential winner with his Tik Tok-friendly entry Think About Things.
US comedian Will Ferrell is married to Swedish actress Viveca Paulin and first became aware of the grip Eurovision has over his wife’s native country when Charlotte Nilsson won in 1999 with Take Me To Your Heaven.
Eurovision is ripe for parody and we enjoyed West End musical Eurobeat which starred Mel Gieldroyc many years ago and although we had doubts about Ferrell’s ability to do this justice this is up there with his best work including Elf (2003) and Anchorman (2004).
The film opens with Lars and Sigrit enjoying the 1974 winning performance by ABBA singing Waterloo and later we join them as duo Fire Saga keen to represent their country in Eurovision.
What Ferrell understands is the attraction of Eurovision and by using the voice of Molly Sandén (3rd in Junior Eurovision in 2006 and a three-time Melodifestivalen finalist) with co-star’s Rachel McAdams he is showing a respect for it which fans of the show will appreciate.
Of course Ferrell is well-known for his own brand of childish humour and the incorporation of the hamster wheel prop from 2014 and use of elves work well here.
There are difficult elements too yet a boat explosion and attempted murder don’t knock the film off its stride. On paper 67-year-old Pierce Brosnan playing 52-year-old Ferrell’s father might appear problematic but in the context of a story about a philandering parent and a child desperate for his approval it works.
Elsewhere the use of top-notch songwriters featuring many with Eurovision connections including Thomas G:son and Jörgen Elofsson as well as Savan Kotecha (Katy Perry, The Weeknd, Britney Spears, One Direction, Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato) brings an authenticity to the music.
Lovato even appears as Fire Saga’s Songvakeppnin rival while Trapped‘s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson presides over Iceland’s Eurovision Song Contest qualifying national final.
There’s much to enjoy elsewhere including a scene-stealing performance from Dan Stevens as a Russian singing sensation with a secret and a so-called song-a-long featuring a host of actual Eurovision winners in a medley featuring the work of Cher, Madonna and the Black Eyed Peas is hugely memorable.
The inexplicable popularity of the schlageresque Ja Ja Ding Dong proves a nice counterpoint to the deployment of classy 2017 contest winner Amor Pelos Dois sung by a busking Salvador Sobral.
There are some cliches here including the desire for international fame and later recognition of the importance of home but for each one of these there is a twist on something familiar that is touching and we loved the use of the concept of the spirit note which we think we remember from long-forgotten sci-fi classic The Fifth Element.
There was also something so moving about the final song Husavik switching into its true Icelandic language to the joy of everyone back home in the bar watching the competition that we don’t mind admitting that we even shed a little tear.
In fact Fire Saga is so much better than we thought it might be that it reminds of Mamma Mia and it pitches the joyous feel of Eurovision so perfectly that we can imagine it enjoying similar success.