20th Century Fox
Movies about sports-related underdogs are a sub-genre unto themselves, but even among their ranks they vary in tone. They all aim to be inspirational to some degree, and while some take the story seriously others aim for laughs above all else. Reality-based underdog tales typically fall into the former camp – think Miracle, Rudy, Hoosiers – but the latest sports movie to be “based on a true story” is switching things up a bit.
Eddie is a bespectacled kid with a leg brace in early ’70s England when he first decides his life goal of becoming an athlete in the Olympics. The dream appears to everyone else as existing far outside the realm of possibility, and even his father tells the boy at one point that “You are not an athlete.” He perseveres though, breaking multiple pairs of glasses in the process, and by 1987 Eddie (Taron Egerton) comes to settle on ski jumping. England has no team, which is fine as Eddie has no coach or experience. One of those things changes when he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), an ex-American ski jumper has-been who takes Eddie under his wing as the young man heads into the ’88 Winter Olympics to compete and make his mark on sports history.
The story is true – well, inspired in part and somewhat true-ish anyway – but director Dexter Fletcher and writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton trade facts for jokes, comical conflicts, and opportunities to channel ’80s cinema. It’s not a spoof, but elements like the poppy synth score, elder official with a stick up his behind, and sneering and sculpted competitors give a punchy, dated feel as it aims for laughs and heart in equal measure. Neither overwhelm, but they’re both here.
Another underdog tale from the ’88 games in Calgary previously hit the big screen with Cool Runnings, but while that movie released in ’93 with the Jamaican bobsled team still somewhat fresh in viewers’ minds Eddie Edwards’ story is now almost three decades old. Disregard for most of the factual elements seems to be the result leaving only the core truth of Eddie’s admirable persistence and crowd-pleasing efforts. Both are presented here, but as someone who remembers first-hand the contagious enthusiasm and excitement over his efforts the crowd’s support feels a bit short-changed.
Egerton is game for the goofiness and shows some comedic chops, but he relies too much on facial geekiness – the stiff grin, pushing his glasses up his nose – to create the character. He’s still perhaps underselling the real Eddie’s “nerdy” affectations, but they become a distracting crutch of sorts here. Jackman nails the role of mentor though with the strut and presence of a movie star and earns more than a few laughs of his own. Christopher Walken has a brief turn as Peary’s old coach – the man who drove Peary out of the sport for being reckless and selfish – but it’s really not the ideal role for the actor. Walken is such a particular presence – a particularly comedic one at this point – and that hurts the character’s intended value as an emotional anchor. To be fair, a script that limits the character to just a few minutes of screen-time while still hoping to make an emotional point doesn’t help matters.
Much of the ski jump action is real footage – of professional skiers, not specifically of Eddie – but on a few noticeable occasions the movie resorts to CG-created tumbles that belie possible budgetary restraints. Like Egerton’s facial fidgets they serve to distance viewers from the film temporarily.
Eddie the Eagle is as slight as they come, but enough laughs, charm, and inspirational energy exists to make it a fun, forgettable watch. It’s never a bad thing to be reminded of the value of trying your best, regardless of the outcome – but there’s also no harm in hoping the filmmakers manage to do a bit better next time.
The Upside: Inspirational and sweet; some laughs; channels ’80s underdog cinema; Hugh Jackman
The Downside: Lightweight; shoddy CG;