Everyone loves an underdog. By their very nature films about athletic dark horses inspire audiences while doing things many sitting in the theater wouldn’t have the balls to attempt on their own. But, such inspiration comes at the price of being incredibly straightforward as seen in the latest underdog drama, Eddie the Eagle. Based on a true story, Eddie the Eagle is “inspirational sports drama 101,” trading in depth for can-do attitude.
Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) dreams of becoming an Olympic ski jumper. With no ski jumpers representing Britain, Eddie decides to make his way to Germany in order to place in competition. Along the way he gets a disgraced former jumper (Hugh Jackman) to coach him.
It’s hard believing Eddie the Eagle comes courtesy of Marv Films, the production outfit usually reserved for the hardboiled comic films and dramas associated with Matthew Vaughn. Unlike those film, featuring copious amounts of violence and F-bombs, Eddie the Eagle is a very tame film, with barely any talk of sex – outside of one woman blindly throwing herself at Egerton’s Eddie – or Jackman telling someone to go fuck themselves. This certainly makes Eddie the Eagle the perfect film for families in a landscape where things are either wholly for children or for adults. In a year without much in the way of sports film, you have the best of the bunch.
There’s an undeniable air of Forrest Gump associated with this film, possibly due to the charmingly eccentric performance Egerton gives in the title role. Like Gump, Eddie starts the film out with braces on his legs, a regular trope of disability cinema. In just two scenes Eddie overcomes his disability and outside of a lone mention that his knees aren’t great, his disability never warrants mention. Normally I’d support the film’s refusal to define him by a disability, but considering how it’s shown in one sequence as one of the first of many challenges Eddie overcomes – none of which hearken back to these earlier scenes – it plays like a gimmick. These scenes could be excised completely and we’d still watch Eddie have greater challenges keeping his thick, Coke-bottle from fogging up.
Despite all that, you certainly root for the plucky Eddie. “My mom says I’m a very determined and resourceful person” which explains why he has the gumption to fly off to Germany with no money or place to stay. His world is populated by kind strangers willing to help him because he’s so darn sweet…or pathetic depending on how you want to look at it. The latter makes sense as there’s a near absence of intensity.
The situation Eddie’s in creates its own brand of suspense – but if you’ve watched one of these movies you’ll know Eddie the Eagle never strays from the downhill slope of its own ski jump. Our hero notwithstanding you have the snooty British Olympic official subbing for the coach of the Cobra Kai, Eddie’s disinterested father who wants him to get a real job, and the drunken coach seeking his own redemption through the hero. The film engages, but purely based on formula.
And speaking of Jackman, the guy’s having the time of his life as Bronson Peary whose introduction comes complete with an upward camera angle and a guitar riff that sounds like the opening of INXS’ “Suicide Blonde,” emphasizing he’s a loose cannon. If you’ve ever wanted to watch him pretend to have sex with Bo Derek, or reenact the end sequence of Dirty Dancing with Taron Egerton, you’ll fall in love with his character. Again, there’s nothing amazing in this performance – in fact, much of Jackman’s character seems to be reheated from his role in Real Steel – but Jackman’s completely compelling, urging Eddie on, reminding him to prove himself an Olympian.
The us vs. them element is never clearly laid out – the snooty British official reiterates that Edide’s not “Olympic material” but there’s never clear delineations as to what that means outside of maybe being physically fit. In all honesty, anyone willing to fling themselves off a curved trough with skies strapped to them should be allowed to compete out of pure initiative. Cinematographer George Richmond’s camera captures the sheer insanity that is ski jumping, with fluid tracking shots giving us Eddie’s perspective of going down the ramp. Watching the various jumpers fling themselves into space terrifies as much as it thrills. It is these moments, once the Olympics take over, that Eddie the Eagle truly takes flight.
With Egerton and Jackman dominating and propelling the narrative, the rest of the cast is made up of one-note performances from Jo Hartley as Eddie’s incredibly sympathetic mother to Edvin Endre as a fellow Olympian misunderstood by Eddie. Christopher Walken gets a walk-on role as Bronson’s former coach, there to dispense wisdom and collect a paycheck.
Eddie the Eagle will appease inspirational sports fans while satisfying the casual viewer. Taron Egerton transforms into Eddie the Eagle while Jackman’s cocky attitude always sells things well. Just don’t be surprised by how generic the entire enterprise is, it’s par for the course.