Movie Review: “Eddie the Eagle”

Starring
Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen
Director
Dexter Fletcher

Disney may be king of the underdog sports drama, but actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher aims to beat the studio at its own game with this inspirational true story that’s equal parts “Rudy” and “Cool Runnings.” (Curiously, the story is set during the same Winter Olympics that marked the debut of the Jamaican bobsled team that inspired the latter film.) Though it’s a pretty formulaic underdog tale that checks off all the usual sports movie clichés – from the unlikely hero who overcomes insurmountable odds, to the training montages, setbacks and cardboard villains – “Eddie the Eagle” succeeds as an enjoyable feel-good film that wears its heart (and humor) on its sleeve just like its incredibly charismatic subject.

As long as he can remember, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) wanted to compete in the Olympics, despite not being very athletic as a kid. Following a series of failed attempts at various sports, he eventually discovers a love for downhill skiing and turns out to be pretty good at it. But after narrowly missing out on selection for the squad representing Great Britain at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Eddie switches his focus to ski jumping when he discovers that the country hasn’t had a recognized ski jumper in over 60 years. With no time to waste and plenty to learn, Eddie heads to an Olympic training camp in Germany, where he meets former ski jumping champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) – now a washed-up alcoholic who drives a snow plow for a living – and asks for his help in order to qualify for Calgary.

It’s easy to see why Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, whose arm-flapping celebration earned him that ironic nickname, became the surprise star of the 1988 Olympics, because he’s the kind of larger-than-life personality – a misfit characterized by his Coke-bottle glasses and goofy underbite who made up for his lack of talent with sheer determination – that’s difficult not to cheer on. Egerton does an excellent job as the title character, perfectly capturing Eddie’s mannerisms and infectious optimism; he’s a seriously talented actor, proving that his breakout performance in “Kingsman: The Secret Service” was no fluke. Jackman is also good as Eddie’s fictitious coach, but it’s such a piece-of-cake role that he practically sleepwalks through the entire movie, getting by solely on his natural charm.

Jackman’s coach isn’t the only fictional element in the film – not by a longshot – but in spite of the many liberties that writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton have taken with the material, it retains the spirit of Eddie’s story. This is a guy who finished dead last in both competitions, yet managed to win over an entire nation and much of the world with his can-do attitude, echoing Pierre de Coubertin’s sentiment that “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning, but taking part.” While some athletes would probably disagree (after all, there’s a reason they award medals), “Eddie the Eagle” nonetheless serves as a shining example of achieving your dream when everyone else says it’s impossible. That’s an important lesson, and one that Fletcher’s movie fully embraces to deliver a slight but entertaining crowd-pleaser that doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, but reminds you why it has worked this well for so long.

  

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