Almost the real thing: Eurovision Song Contest: Fire Saga

When it comes to the Eurovision Song Contest, most Europeans are in one of two camps: loving it, or hating it.

Certainly, today’s Eurovision Song Contest is a world apart from the Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson, as most of us probably still remember it.  You may remember those days when the entire family huddled around that one TV in the home. And since we had only 3 channels in those days, we darn well had to enjoy it. 

Netherlands' 2020 Eurovision Song Contest Logo

Of course, when Eurovision premiered in 1956, the odds of winning were far better than today. Only 7 countries participated in the first competition. By 2020, a total of 41 countries competed for the coveted finals, to be held in Rotterdam. 

Overall, much has changed from the black-and-white days of the Eurovision orchestra accompanying a handful of countries. Today’s Eurovision contest is mostly a spectacle of lighting, video backgrounds, and crazy stage spectacles.

Eurovision in America

Although most Eurovision contestants nowadays perform in English rather than their native languages, most of America has not yet embraced it.  One must either love crazy, or have a nostalgic connection to the decades of Eurovision history to truly enjoy (and generally mock) the event. And in case you didn’t know: nowadays, you can watch Eurovision live anywhere in the world. (For more information, go to the official Eurovision site’s live stream.)

This year, due to the pandemic, we couldn’t enjoy our annual Eurovision viewing party.  The Eurovision Song Celebration 2020 shown instead was a nice feature about the performers, and how they fared at home. However, it couldn’t make up for the crazy costumes, butter-churning Polish girls or hamster wheels we’ve come to expect and love.

But as we watched the 2020 Eurovision special on a shared Zoom screen in May of 2020, someone suddenly mentioned the upcoming Eurovision movie written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele. 

Eurovision – The Movie

The full title is Eurovision Song Contest: Fire Saga, and it premiered on Netflix on June 26th.  The movie was originally scheduled to premiere alongside the actual contest in May, but got delayed due to Covid-19.  

Now we had to ask: Will Ferrell? Not only is Will Ferrell’s humor not everybody’s cup of tea, but let’s face it – he’s American. How can he possibly understand the Rules of Eurovision Cheers & Mockery we’ve worked on so hard over the years? Obviously, we had to check it out. 

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Sigrit and Lars Ericksson in Eurovision Song Contest Movie

So what to do when you’re forced to do without your annual viewing party of glittery outfits and a live stream of snarky Twitter comments? To combat the Eurovision blues, our little group of European (and enlightened American) Eurovision Party regulars got their annual fix by watching Fire Saga on Netflix, while connecting via Zoom. And if there’s one recommendation you should take away from this post, it is to head over to Netflix and check out this movie. 

A Bit of Plot – But not too Much

Fire Saga tells the story of Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), a pair of Icelandic small-town singers who dream of one day making it to Eurovision. Neither Lars’ father (Piers Brosnan) nor, really, the rest of the town are particularly supportive, but by accident, the two actually make it to the Semi-finals in Scotland.  After a disastrous performance, Lars returns to Iceland. Sigrit decides to stay and, after some more mishap and intrigue, the two eventually perform in the finals.

More than that would spoil the fun. Suffice it to say, the quirky performances and real Eurovision performers’ cameos provided just as much fun as the real thing. Except, we didn’t have to sit through that third hour. You know: cursing the countries’ judges for seemingly having enjoyed a shot of Ouzo or Grappa every time the wind machine went off, as they dole out points to every country except the ones they’re currently mad at. And in the end, everything can be thrown off by the fairly new process of audience voting.  

Europe Gives 12 Points to …

Much to our surprise, the movie is far better than one would have expected it to be. That is, until you learn that Will Ferrell actually loves Eurovision. He has attended some of the live shows and talked to Eurovision officials and performers in preparation for the script.  Last not least, Ferrell is married to a Swede, which probably helped a lot. 

Anyone not familiar with Eurovision will probably scratch their heads at the over-the-top performances and subtle sub-plots in Fire Saga.  They are, nevertheless, not far from the truth. 

Most of us are very aware of the fact that some countries participate, but hope to never actually win. After all, the winner has to host the next year’s competition. That requires a lot of money, and an infrastructure that supports this huge event. That is one of Fire Saga’s sub-plots, which might seem random to anyone not familiar with Eurovision. 

Lions and Hamster Wheels

Dan Stevens as Eurovision Contestant Alexander Lemtov

Fire Saga features the hamster wheel from Ukraine’s 2014 Eurovision performance (although with far more potential for a story-defining accident). Dan Stevens, known for his role of Matthew Crawley in Downtown Abbey, plays Lemtov, the lion-loving Russian participant.

His very first performance in the movie (Lion of Love) will probably tell you whether you’ll enjoy the rest of the film: randomly performing dancers, slightly song-related video playing in the background, and lyrics that could make you down the entire content of the Grappa bottle at once. 

It’s no wonder that the organizers of Eurovision themselves actually gave their blessing for the film. They even proudly advertise it on the Eurovision TV homepage. And really, how could anyone object to this hilarious romp?  Ferrell and Steele managed to make Fire Saga an over-the-top, yet strangely believable, and likable, Eurovision story.  Well, at least for those familiar with the topic.  For once, we’ll embrace that air of superiority that allows us to tell those who criticize the film that they just don’t know Eurovision

Ja Ja Ding Dong …

Of course it’s not a 100% realistic depiction of the real thing. And once you watched Fire Saga, you’ll probably be haunted by the beer-tent style Ja, Ja, Ding Dong song. But whether you love or hate the Eurovision of today, you’ll probably enjoy Fire Saga. As long as you’re familiar with the real thing. 

If you’re just now realizing that you haven’t seen a Eurovision contest in years because you didn’t know it’s available to stream in the U.S., head on over to Eurovision.tv, or simply hang around USA Euros for annual updates on how to watch in the U.S. 

Naturally, as soon as the 2021 contestants are announced, we’ll start sharing the wackiest videos right here on USA Euros, and give you updates on where to stream outside of the Eurovision TV main site. 

Unless  Covid-19 ruins next year’s event as well, the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest is still scheduled to take place in Rotterdam, and you can watch Part 1 and Part 2 of the 2020 finalist lineup on YouTube. 

Check out Fire Saga’s official trailer below, and for more movie suggestions, check out our Movie Listings here