Eddie the Eagle

“I believe I can fly…” Taron Egerton, Tim McInnerny, Jo Hartley and Academy Award nominee Hugh Jackman star in Eddie the Eagle.

Eddie the EagleCast of Characters:
Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards – Taron Egerton
Dustin Target – Tim McInnerny
Richmond – Mark Benton
Janette Edwards – Jo Hartley
Terry Edwards – Keith Allen
Matti “The Flying Finn” Nykanen – Edvin Endre
Petra – Iris Berben
Warren Sharp – Christopher Walken
Bronson Peary – Hugh Jackman

Director – Dexter Fletcher
Screenplay – Sean Macaulay & Simon Kelton
Producer – Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, David Reid, Rupert Maconick & Valerie Van Galder
Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking

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Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) has dreamed of competing in the Olympics ever since he was a child. Unfortunately, physical handicaps of leg braces and farsightedness limit what he may be able to qualify for. When he finally finds a sport that he’s capable of performing, ski jumping, he is determined to qualify for the Olympics, even though the UK has not participated in that particular event for decades.

With no one to back him financially and with the British Olympic officials offering him no support as well, Eddie travels to Germany to self-train. There he meets former American Olympic champion turned drunken snow groomer Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who initially refuses to train him, but after seeing the determination and never-give-up fighting spirit that the kid has, he reluctantly decides to take him under his wing.

Unlike recent inspiration sports biopic subjects such as Jesse Owens (Race), Jackie Robinson (42) and the McFarland High School track team (McFarland, USA), the story of Michael Edwards, aka “Eddie the Eagle”, and his competing in the 1988 Winter Olympics doesn’t exactly scream cinematic treatment. He failed to win the gold, silver or bronze; in fact, he finished far and away in last place for every event he participated in. Adding insult to injury, if there was anything he did accomplish, it was embarrassing the Olympic committee to the point of creating the “Eddie the Eagle” rule which strengthened the requirements to qualify for the Olympics.

However, though it might seem like an unremarkable endeavor, there’s something remarkable in how this average Joe managed to reach a platform no one expected him to reach. Despite losing badly and initially being made a laughingstock of both the media and fellow competitors, there was something about his can-do, never-give-up spirit that won the Olympic spectators over. Say what you want about how bad he lost, he didn’t give up, pushed aside all the taunts, jeers and criticisms hurled his way and made sure to finish what he started. Win or lose, that is something everyone should admire.

Still, the real Eddie the Eagle’s passion doesn’t automatically translate to a good picture. Jesse Owens was an amazing athlete and what we got earlier this year was a ho-hum, overstuffed film. Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons put out some great music, but Jersey Girls is arguably one of Eastwood’s worst films. Eddie may have “soared” back in ’88, but his film still has to deliver, and for the most part, it does.

Actor turned director Dexter Fletcher (Guy Ritchie fans remember him as Soap from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and co-writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton do take quite a few liberties with the true story, namely with Eddie’s training. The film has Eddie training in Germany under the guidance of former gold medalist Bronson Peary. The real life Eddie trained in Lake Placid under the guidance of two men, none of whom were named Bronson Peary (a fictionalized composite of both men).

This certainly won’t go down as one of the sports biopic greats. Genre tropes are broken, and not only are they broken, Eddie the Eagle follows a near identical path of Cool Runnings, not just in story structure, but also in real life as the Jamaican national bobsled team also competed in the ’88 Calgary Winter Olympics (Team Jamaica is given a shout-out in the film). Guess what film I’m describing. Kid dreams of competing in the Olympics in a sport everyone but him believes is out of his league. Determined to pursue his dreams in spite of the naysayers, he comes in contact with a washed-up former champion of the sport, who has no interest in training the kid, but eventually caves over the kid’s persistence. He’s viewed as joke by the Olympic Committee and other competitors, but nothing will bring him down and by the end of his competition, he has won over the entire crowd.

The answer is both films.

Sure, I’ve described quite a few sports biopics, but Eddie the Eagle gets the Cool Runnings edge ’cause this film also has the dad who constantly berates his son about wasting his time with this Olympics junk and not joining the family business, but by the end of the film he’s turned full-on groupie, jumping up and down, cheering and even wearing the “Eddie the Eagle” T-shirt.

Yet as imperfect as this may be, Eddie the Eagle remains a genuinely warm flick of the “overachieving underdog” sort, and Fletcher, Macaulay and Kelton do provide somewhat of a refreshing spin on the formula in presenting a sports biopic that doesn’t culminate in a heroic victory (to those pointing out that Rocky did it first, keep in mind, the titular boxer at least pushed Creed to 15 rounds and came close to winning). The film isn’t about competing for the gold. It’s about Eddie’s drive to complete what he’s set his mind to, and from that angle, Fletcher and Co. put together an engaging story.

Unlike other sports films, where the final play can come down to a last second Hail Mary, buzzer beater three-pointer, game winning goal or bottom of the ninth home run, Eddie the Eagle faces a challenge in bringing an individual sport such as ski jumping to life. That’s not to say that skiing doesn’t require a great deal of skill, especially at the Olympic level (not to mention that one wrong move could mean a serious injury or even death), but this particular sport isn’t quite the time winding down nail biter like say Joe Montana’s catch, Larry Bird picking off Isiah Thomas’s inbound pass with one second left in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals or Team USA’s “Miracle on Ice” against the Russkies. How Fletcher presents the sequences are key to livening up the events, and with the help of cinematographer George Richmond, he does a fine job in realizing the ski jump scenes, using a combination of distant stunt-double footage, close-ups and POV shots.

Taron Egerton first came to attention in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service (Kingsman director Matthew Vaughn serves as one of this film’s producers), and he follows up his breakout role with another winning performance. Rocking oversized glasses, bed-head and a wispy mustache, a nearly unrecognizable Egerton is all charm and heart as the bumbling but determined Edwards (Egerton wisely avoids turning the offbeat characteristics into mocking caricature) and provides the film an endearing underdog worthy of our rooting interest. With two strong, versatile lead performances now under his belt, the future is bright for the young actor.

Hugh Jackman is no stranger to playing booze-filled curmudgeons. The X-Men franchise alone has given him more than enough experience. Bronson’s an underwritten character that’s smothered in as much cliché as there is alcohol swimming in Peary’s belly. Jackman, though, lends enough humor and dramatic chops to his role and shares a warm mentor-protégé bond with Egerton, both of which help overcome any of Peary’s one-note trappings.

Yes, Eddie the Eagle is manipulative and it breaks every single cliché in the inspirational sports film handbook, but like its lead underdog, the film carries with it an undeniable sweetness that just might warm over even the hardest cynics thanks to standout work from both Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman. It may not rank up with some of the best underdog greats – Rocky, The Karate Kid, Chariots of Fire – but it’s fun nonetheless. Those untouched by this earnestly heartfelt tale may wanna check their pulse.

I give Eddie the Eagle a B (★★★).

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