A physically challenged kid has dreams of athletic glory. He struggles and fights and never gives up - except for once when he almost gives up about two-thirds of the way through the movie - until he finally achieves his dream, inspiring everyone he encounters on his way and proving wrong anyone who told him he couldn’t do it.
You know this story, yes? It’s a pretty standard format, and Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle does not stray from the established path – not in story, anyway. But in tone, Eddie the Eagle feels fresh. It’s self-referential but not overly so. It’s sly but not smug, optimistic but not naïve. It’s celebratory and very funny, and it’s tethered by two extremely charming performances.
Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) is a scrawny Brit with dodgy knees who wants nothing more than to be an Olympian. Any kind of Olympian, really. Unfortunately, what Eddie possesses in heart, he utterly lacks in athletic ability. He tries track and field, and weight-lighting, and the javelin throw, but after discovering that no Brit in half a century has attempted the treacherous sport of ski-jumping, he’s found his niche. Eddie trains under former ski-jumping star Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), whose former coach Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken) crushed Peary’s hopes and left him a bitter and drunk crust of a man. But Eddie’s tenacity and total innocence (the guy only drinks milk) inspires even crotchety old Bronson Peary, and soon the two are on the path to the 1988 Winter Olympics.
It’s a true story, somewhat, of sorts. There is no Bronson Peary, no Warren Sharp. Maybe the real Eddie Edwards is blessed with one tirelessly encouraging mother (Jo Hartley) and saddled with a skeptical father (Keith Allen), or maybe his life is not so thematically symmetrical. It hardly matters. Eddie the Eagle doesn’t present itself as a traditional biopic, and thank Fletcher for that. It’s too fun, too free, to burden itself with historical accuracy. This is a movie with one goal: to entertain, and it does so triumphantly.
Egerton is a delight in the role. It’s a bit of a marvel that he followed up Kingsman’s tough, suave Eggsy with Eddie, blinky and klutzy and childlike, all bulky sweaters and broken glasses. Hugh Jackman is Eddie’s perfect foil as Peary, looking ten feet tall next to Egerton’s diminutive frame, as hostile as Eddie is affable, as cynical as Eddie is absolutely certain of success. Jackman’s also indubitably cool in the role, even when he’s getting knocked out with one punch during a bar fight with a Norwegian mountain of a coach. Three sheets to the wind, Peary attempts a midnight ski jump on the 90 meter jump, the tallest and most murderous of the obstacles that looms in Eddie’s future. Peary lights a cigarette, gives a half-cocked grin and down he goes: down, and then up, and then landing with impeccable flair.
Together, Egerton and Jackman are something of an unlikely dream team, a comedy duo that feels like it could work under any circumstances, with any story. There’s something to be said for the inherent comedy in their vast size discrepancy, but more than that, both men commit to their roles with such free-wheeling abandon that Eddie the Eagle works when it might not have with any two other actors.
Or another director: Fletcher gives the film – on paper, completely standard – a wonderful energy that sustains throughout its runtime. Eddie’s journey is marked with gasp-inducing montages of excruciating crashes, and over the jovial soundtrack of ‘80s power pop, we hear bones crunching and popping. As soon as Eddie achieves one jump – the 15m, and then the 40m, and then the 70m – he looks cheerfully to the next. “Right. I think I’m ready for that big one!”
He isn’t ready for any of them. He’s really a poor athlete, but as Julia Cameron once wrote, “Very often audacity, not talent, makes one person an artist and another a shadow artist.” Eddie is told, time and again, by his father, by Britain’s Olympic officials, even by Peary, that he is not and will never be Olympic material. But he has audacity in spades, and the sort of single-minded strength of purpose that is actually rather selfish - because Eddie cares about nothing, NOTHING, but making it to the Olympics. And with that audacity, with that obstinate assurance, he does. And as anyone familiar with Eddie the Eagle's story already knows, once he's at the Olympics, he does okay!
Eddie the Eagle is a lot like Eddie the Eagle. It’s a little contender that qualifies but doesn’t win, but it’s so damn joyous that you’re just happy it’s there.