Release: Friday, February 26, 2016
Written by: Sean Macauley; Simon Kelton
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Eddie the Eagle is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, and good for it. It’s the kind of movie you really want to stand up and cheer for — and hey, maybe you even have. Did you throw some of your popcorn at those sitting near you who didn’t seem to be getting into it as much as you? I know I did.
No matter how you slice it, Eddie is a competent feel-good film, undoubtedly the product of its well-matched leads more so than the writing or direction. This latest reminder of the uniqueness of the 1988 Olympics in Calgary lives and dies on the chemistry between Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton, the latter seemingly trying out something different from his break-out role in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. This is a genuine effort, one that not only brings the best out of Jackman but makes it that much easier to overlook this underdog story’s shameless underdog-isms.
This is the dramatically (and comedically) overhauled story of British ski jumper Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, who dreamed of becoming an Olympian from a very early age and wound up competing in Calgary as the first British ski jumper in six decades. His story is retold with liberal dramatic license in this fun and charitable package that sees a young man fighting desperately to represent his country. Indeed, Eddie is not a story of podium finishes, it’s about establishing a goal, committing to it and proving naysayers wrong.
The Eagle had a lot to overcome, not the least of which his being a social outcast due to his peculiar dress style and severe underbite and generally being considered ‘bad for the sport,’ a sport that prides itself on image. He was also somewhat physically ill-equipped: he was extremely long-sighted and had to wear thick glasses that often restricted his vision when they fogged up in the cold and he was much heavier than the average skier which hindered his speed considerably on the jump. As if all that wasn’t enough, he entered the Games without any sponsorship or financial support, funding himself entirely through odd jobs as a plasterer, a career path his dad much preferred him take.
Even behind impressively dorky glasses the make-up and costuming fails to truly dork-ify the good-looking Cestrian but it’s the heart the actor puts into it that matters. Egerton carries himself with such dignity, his character’s unshakable sense of purpose unmistakable in this earnest and warm performance. We follow him to a German training facility where he’s determined to learn the ins-and-outs of jumping, an effort that quickly lands him in the hospital. His antics eventually attract the attention of Bronson Peary (Jackman), a once-upon-a-time ski jumping extraordinaire who has since turned to the bottle and now spends his days driving around a snow groomer at the very training facility Eddie has come to.
Peary is a manifestation of real-life mentors John Viscome and Chuck Berghorn who influenced Eddie when he trained in Lake Placid, New York. Peary is the quintessential has-been, and though Jackman’s talents are somewhat limited by the cliché, his backstory, which revolves around a fall-out with fictional ski legend and his former Olympic coach Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken), is just believable enough to earn some empathy.
After that obligatory ‘thanks for the offer, but no thanks’ phase passes Peary realizes he has a chance to redeem himself by helping Eddie prepare for the qualifying jumps. Despite there never being any such rule in place before, the British Olympic Committee implements a minimum 60-meter distance be cleared by all athletes who want to be considered for inclusion, the general consensus being this will be the end of the Brit’s campaign. Before you know it Peary has switched from the booze for breakfast to drinking cups of milk (just like Eddie) in an act of solidarity and pure heart-string-tugging moviemaking.
Eddie is very much manipulative and cheesy. A synthpop-heavy soundtrack shoehorns in nostalgia for a bygone decade as the production design and casting don’t necessarily scream ‘the 80s’ and there’s not enough coverage of the event, much less the Olympics as a whole, to genuinely place us in that time. But the music does and is perfectly suited for the cheesy affair — one training montage cleverly spoofs Rocky. The soundtrack also confirms the notion that the production has no qualms playing by the rules, unlike its namesake hero. It’s okay if you’re rolling your eyes. I’m (probably) not going to throw popcorn at you.
Recommendation: Eddie the Eagle isn’t anything you haven’t seen before but it is refreshing in the sense that it doesn’t obsess over winning as the only measure of success. In fact it hardly even pays attention to podium-bound athletes here and the framing of Eddie as a success story based on his never giving up is a quality more sports films should aspire to featuring. Not everything is about winning or losing. And boy is that a cliché.
Running Time: 105 mins.
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