The reviews are in for Netflix’s much-hyped Eurovision movie — Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga. Alas, while not a nul points disaster, douze points are scarce on the ground.
Most critics agree that the film is a mixed affair. Praise comes in for the infectious soundtrack, the song contest set pieces and Dan Stevens’ turn as Alexander Lemtov. However, the picture is also criticised for being overlong and unfunny. Much is written about the plot, particularly the romance storyline between the leads Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams — the reviewers are not keen on it.
The film’s treatment of Eurovision also appears to be an Achilles heel. The EBU authorised production is said to be lacking bite, treating the contest with too much reverence. Yet at the same time, it is filled with inconsistencies that even the most casual Eurovision fan would spot. For instance, in this universe, the UK is perceived by the characters to be bad at the contest. Yet the country is hosting the fictional version of the event, implying that the Brits are the reigning champs.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga will be available to stream on Netflix from Friday 26 June.
Read a round-up of some of the early reviews below.
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story Of Fire Saga — Reviews
⭐⭐ — Too timid for satire
It’s a strange, tonally misfiring movie. There are some nice gags and the idea that Lars and Sigrit’s relationship is psychosexually arrested in a creepy quasi-sibling state is funny. But basically we can never really laugh at them because they’re supposed to be sympathetic and relatable, so the script pulls its punches. Moreover, we can never really laugh at Eurovision itself, because Eurovision clearly has some corporate say in the film, and in any case Ferrell has clearly understood that mocking the event is the wrong call these days: the correct approach is celebratory affection.
It looks like ‘Anchorman’ or ‘Talladega Nights’ minus the laughs
It’s fine, of course, to have affection for the thing that you’re satirizing, but “Eurovision Song Contest” is so sunny and mindlessly “positive” that the musical-performance sequences are all played relatively straight. It’s as if the filmmakers had thrown up their hands and said, “Europop — it’s funny, no?” Actually, no. There’s one theoretically amusing disaster, when Lars is performing on a giant hamster wheel that Sigrit’s dress gets caught in, but it turns into a lame piece of destruction, as if Dobkin, as terrific a job as he did with “Wedding Crashers,” now couldn’t be bothered to stage an intricate piece of slapstick.
⭐⭐ — Big laughs are few and far between – the material just isn’t there
Which brings us to the film’s more significant problem. The opening stretch, showing life in Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit’s (Rachel McAdams) small fishing village, provokes a few chuckles, but big laughs are few and far between. Ferrell and McAdams, playing lifelong friends who fancy each other but who might, for reasons that are never properly explained, be brother and sister, are always watchable (though one moment is a direct rip-off of McAdams’ wonderful “Oh no, he died!” reaction in Game Night). But the material (whether improvised or from the screenplay co-written by Ferrell) just isn’t there.
6/10 — Silly but inconsistent salute to Europe’s iconic music competition
It’s heartening that Ferrell, who co-wrote the script, has a clear affection for the competition. He might be an American but thanks to his Swedish wife he’s been watching the show for over 20 years. The film refuses to mock the Song Contest, instead, it affectionately teases the idiosyncrasies that make Eurovision such a campy, poptastic affair while celebrating the vibrant musicality that is delivered annually by the 50+ countries who compete. There are more than a few parody bops that deserve repeat listening after the credits roll, “Double Trouble” and “Volcano Man,” in particular.
More ardent fans might find themselves pulling an Alan Partridge by screaming at the TV, “stop getting Eurovision wrong!” every so often. In one scene, Russian contestant Alexander (Dan Stevens) jokes that everyone hates the UK because they get “nil points” each year, which is fair, but as the event is being hosted in Scotland that would mean the UK are the reigning champs. This nonsensical error is furthered when the ceremony is hosted by a pair of non-Brits, which seems like an odd thing to get wrong given how much effort went into making this movie authentic in other places.
The Hollywood Reporter
Much to enjoy but much more to be desired
There’s a lot of fun in the wildly outré production values, the overblown sets, elaborate LED graphics, pyrotechnic lighting and tasteless choreography of the performances, as seen in “(Come and Play) Masquerade,” in which Mita emerges as a sexy astronaut. (Who doesn’t love a song title with a parenthetical?) Ferrell of course is in his delirious element with this over-the-top stuff, nowhere more so than when he takes the stage in a silver pit suit, singing while jogging in a giant hamster wheel.
Devoted Eurovision fans will smile at the appearance of regular U.K. commentator Graham Norton in that role, and Portuguese 2017 winner Salvador Sobral pops up in a delicate interlude as an Edinburgh street performer. The movie’s obvious love for the bizarre excesses of Eurovision, and the fun it has with them, make you wish the filmmakers could have condensed all the messy plot padding and just harnessed the excitement of the show.
⭐⭐⭐ — Not exactly a winner, but not nul points either
All it really does is extend an already bloated two-hour runtime where you’re just waiting for the next Eurovision moment to come around. What saves the movie though are those moments. After a sluggish start, the real star of the movie arrives when Fire Saga start their Eurovision journey and meet the other contestants, including Dan Stevens as the Russian favourite Alexander Lemtov. Stevens steals the show as the camp and louche Lemtov, who he plays with a Borat-esque accent. His wonderful performance brings laughs that are lacking elsewhere and his Eurovision performance is something to behold. Lemtov is also involved in the stand-out sequence of the movie that brings in some familiar Eurovision faces for their take on a Pitch Perfect riff-off. It’s totally indulgent and serves no real story purpose, but you won’t give a damn as it’s joyous.
⭐⭐⭐ – A huit points heartwarmer
Turns out Ferrell and Netflix’s plan was to celebrate all that’s best about Eurovision – underdog stories, WTF production values, Mid-Atlantic accents, people making ‘party in the night’, cool cameos and, of course, the songs. And with contest organisers the European Broadcasting Union having skin and fake tan in this particular game, Story of Fire Saga aims for the heart and avoids going for the throat. There are laughs, but no sneers.
⭐⭐⭐— Like ‘Glee’ on ketamine
The cringy accents and misjudged jokes are a shame, in a way, because Ferrell’s film is actually a well-meaning underdog story about a couple of guileless dreamers who make it to Eurovision, f*** up massively (and hilariously), but ultimately end up succeeding anyway. Even Downton Abbey star Dan Stevens’ cartoon villain, Fire and Ice’s scheming Russian revival Alexander Lemtov, gets a happy ending involving a stealthy potshot at Putin’s homophobic regime. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga isn’t a disaster, but it’s a case of douze points for the big comic set pieces, and maybe three or four for everything else.
Has one winner, and it’s not the movie’s leads
In a vampire dandy’s flash of brocade and velvet, Dan Stevens (perhaps best known as the ill-fated Matthew Crawley in the early seasons of Downton Abbey) shows up as conceited hottie billionaire Russian crooner Alexander Lemtov. During rehearsals, Lemtov takes the stage for his pyrotechnic-heavy number, “Lion of Love,” prowling the stage like a zoo cat in heat. He flashes a wink at Sigrit; she’s flattered, but resists. In his faux-Russian accent, as ornate as an imperial samovar, he promises her many riches—“mansions, palaces, wi-fi in every room”—and still, Sigrit sticks with Lars. Her loss. As Lemtov, Stevens is so absurdly lascivious that he supercharges the movie every time he shows up, which, thankfully, is often. Innocent gazelles everywhere, look out.
The Washington Post
⭐⭐ — Will Ferrell dials down the crazy in run-of-the-mill rom-com
Speaking of wasted opportunity, there’s plenty of fodder here to make fun of Eurovision, but it’s hampered by the fact that many Americans don’t really know anything about the contest, and the jokes, if there were more of them, would probably fly over our heads. In any case, neither the film’s writers, Ferrell and “Saturday Night Live” veteran Andrew Steele, nor its director, David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”), seem especially interested in making a “Spinal Tap”-style parody. At heart, “Eurovison” seems content to be more dumb rom-com than sharp music satire.
A Netflix comedy far from the reality of the competition
The final outcome wants to take us back two years ago going through Lisbon’s trash where Will Ferrell has no doubt abandoned his observations of the competition and its organisation. We are indeed curious to know what he was able to retain as the scenario he co-wrote takes the decision to oversimplify the Eurovision machine. In fiction, the candidates are left to their own devices, in constant improvisation. The rehearsals have the same intensity as the preparations for the Marie Myriam School Fair in Pontault-Combault. The live shows are in total let go in the face of the various incidents occurring on the stage.
Saying we were waiting for a naturalist movie would be disingenuous. Will Ferrell is not known for being embarrassed by subtlety and we know that if he appears in the casting of a film about a very particular universe, it is not to find a documentary dimension in it.One cannot help but think that at Eurovision 2016, Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede, with their act entitled “Love Love Peace Peace” managed to say more relevant and funny things about the competition in the space of five minutes than Netflix’s comedy does in two hours.
What do you think of the reviews? Are you curious to watch? Or will you give it a miss? Let us know in the comments.