Film Review: Eddie the Eagle

Modestly entertaining feel-good movie based on the life of Olympic ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, who persevered, beat the odds, and gained cult-status as a noble failure.
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Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle is a mildly diverting, feel-good biopic loosely inspired by the unlikely career of Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton), a quirky, determined and downright brave British ski-jumper who believed in himself largely on the basis of nothing. Indeed, nobody was in his corner. Yet, despite all odds, he made history in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Brought up in a working-class British community, the son of a plasterer, Eddie had his sights set on the Olympics even as a youngster. For reasons that are not entirely clear, at least as recounted here, he saw himself as a champion downhill skier. Despite working relentlessly towards his goal, he did not make the British team at the Winter Olympics in 1984.

Undaunted, Eddie switched gears to ski-jumping precisely because Britain hadn’t had a ski-jumper represented at the Olympics in decades. Thus, he had a shot at it. Eddie had never attempted a ski jump before, but that didn’t faze him, nor did his physical condition (he was chunky and suffered from terrible eyesight), nor his socioeconomic background. Eddie was far afield from most competitive skiers who are svelte, start training early, and are well-heeled, with no shortage of funding sources.

In the end, Eddie was the only British contender at the 1987 World Championships, placing 55th and thereby qualified to compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics, where he placed last in both the 70 and 90-meter jump but became a cult figure and media darling nonetheless for his indefatigable drive coupled with his oddball appearance (squat build, thick glasses, blond mustache) and ski-slope antics, most notably the joyous flapping of his arms after he successfully landed. The tabloids dubbed him “The Eagle,” and for a while he enjoyed a folk-hero status in the U.K., if not in the States.

The truthfulness of the film is arguable, though Egerton cuts a fun figure: an awkward, guileless, child-man who never touches liquor and seems utterly baffled and a tad repelled when an attractive mature woman makes a pass at him.

Fletcher and screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton also add two fictional characters to the mix that are undoubtedly entertaining—not least because they are played by Hugh Jackman and Christopher Walken. They’re also designed to move the story along and heighten the emotional impact of what it means to have failed and come back against all odds.

Bronson Perry (Jackman) was at one time an Olympic contender, but he was booted off the team by iconic coach Warren Sharp (Walken) for lack of discipline and heavy drinking. Now scruffy, cynical, and a full-blown alcoholic, Perry makes his living driving a snow plow in Garmish, Germany, and spends much of his free time at the local bar and hanging around the ski slopes where despite himself he is drawn to Eddie’s sincere, damn-the-torpedoes ambition. He reluctantly takes him under his wing, training young Eddie to jump (likening it to sex with Bo Derek) while at the same time warding off the well-built Nordic Olympic contenders who are bullies.

Like Eddie, who is prodded forward by a lifetime of putdowns, Perry decides to clean up his act and train the skier to win in earnest, especially when his old nemesis Sharp surfaces at the games proclaiming that both Eddie and Percy are a couple of losers. Walken appears in only two brief scenes, but there is a quiet build-up for his arrival (bordering on the campy), as Percy repeatedly stares at old magazine covers featuring photos of his former mentor whom he so deeply disappointed.

The rest is predictable enough, as the least likely triumphs and reconciliations are achieved all around: Sharp admits he misjudged Perry and apologizes—followed by a meaningful, manly embrace between the two men—while Eddie gains not only the ski world’s adulation but also his disparaging father’s stamp of approval. When Eddie returns home victorious, Dad is at the airport to greet him, as part of a cheering crowd, sporting a sweatshirt that proudly states: “I am Eddie’s Dad.”

The film is unabashedly what it is and likeable even at its most shamelessly overstated moments, like Eddie at the base of the slope peering upwards at the 70 and then 90-meter jumps as the emotionally wrought background music swells. And finally, at the Olympic game just before he takes the big jump (that could kill him), he momentarily freezes, hearing all the insults ever leveled at him about his lack of athletic prowess. Proving them wrong is his motto and creed.

Eddie the Eagle is the perfect antidote (momentary though it may be) to those moviegoers who know all too well that working hard and following your dreams is usually another opportunity for wheel-spinning.

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