It's hard to ridicule something that is already ridiculous. So Will Ferrell, star, co-producer, and co-writer of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, took the appropriate "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach.
This extremely amiable direct-to-Netflix music competition film, co-written by Andrew Steele and directed by David Dobkin, is impervious to criticism and impossible to dislike. One might say "nah, don't pause it," to a partner watching on the couch while racing to the restroom, but only because this film is so easygoing that getting hung up on missing two minutes seems against the point.
Fire Saga's Lars is another classic Ferrell man-child, but the eager Icelandic singer-songwriter ditches some of the selfishness found in previous iterations. Lars is driven and clueless, and uproariously clumsy, but he means well and, by and large, everybody likes him. Everyone except his father Erik (played by Pierce Brosnan, just 12 years older than Ferrell in real life) who wishes he'd grow up and stop singing songs about volcanos in the garage.
By Lars's side is his best pal since childhood, Sigrit, played by Rachel McAdams, who, between this and the recent Game Night, has proven to be an outstanding comedienne. She's every bit as funny as Ferrell; the two have both terrific timing and, believe it or not, share genuine romantic sparks. She's a little loopy and believes in magical elves, but Lars' focus on music has blinded him to her affections, until now. Unlike Lars, though, she actually has a beautiful voice.
Lars and Sigrit first bonded as tykes watching ABBA perform at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 (McAdams was -4 then, but let's stop checking facts) and the international competition has been their goal ever since. Eurovision, if you are unfamiliar, is a tradition going back to 1956, and though it has generated a few acts that went on to popularity (Celine Dion and ABBA, mostly, but maybe you've heard of Lena or Dana Internationale?) the televised event is mostly a campy extravaganza. The Story of Fire Saga leans into this, but it's not a parody; it's an accurate representation of what is actually staged.
Iceland is prepared to send an up-and-coming star (played by Demi Lovato) to Eurovision, but a preposterous string of mishaps means that Lars and Sigrit get the call. (I sat scratching my head during the opening 20 minutes wondering how Ferrell and Steele would make this twist work; I can assure you I didn't see it coming.) They leave their tiny fishing village and arrive in Edinburgh like Dorothy and Toto entering Oz. Then comes this film's brilliant stroke.
You think that there will be a series of schemes and back-biting double-crosses. Dan Stevens as the Russian crooner Alexander and Melissanthi Mahut as the Greek diva Mita seem, at first, to be untrustworthy opportunists. But that's just because we've been poisoned by movies. Turns out that everyone is actually really nice! It's in keeping with Netflix's Great British Bake Off vibe.
A party scene turns into a celebratory sing-a-long medley, featuring some actual recent Eurovision contestants, and it's the marriage of Step Brothers and musical theater we never knew we wanted. The script is otherwise simple and lacking any real stakes, but it's all incredibly sweet.
The only negative is that if you were expecting the songs in Fire Saga to be funny in a Popstar: Never Stop Stopping kind of way, that's not really in the cards. The music plays it pretty straight, to the point that if you like Demi Lovato-ish pop music you may legitimately like the songs here. (Okay, Dan Stevens prowling on all fours then cracking a whip during "Lion of Love" is funny, I take some of this back.)
COVID-19 cancelled the Eurovision Song Contest this year, the first time ever in its 64-year history. Fans can scratch the itch a bit with this amusing, small gem of a movie. And for those unfamiliar with the competition's pleasures, this may recruit some new fans.
TV Guide Rating: 3/5
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga premieres Friday, June 26 on Netflix.