“Eddie the Eagle” is not a feel-good movie. Like Eddie, the English skier whose ambitions to compete in the Olympics made him a star, the film sets its sights high. It’s not content to simply be a feel good film, it’s aspiring to be a feel GREAT movie.
When we first meet Eddie it’s 1973 and he’s a cute English kid with leg braces and a dream of entering the Olympics. Unfortunately his bad knees prevent him from taking part in most of the tradition sports so he wants to use his skill at holding his breath to win the gold.
Cut to his teen years. The braces are gone and he home trains himself in pole-vault and (not-so) long jumps in hopes of taking a shot at the Summer Olympics. His father (Tim McInnerny) isn’t as hopeful. “You’ll never be Olympic material,” he says. Bloodied but unbowed, the now twenty-two year old Eddie (Taron Egerton) switches his focus to winter sports, specifically ski jumping. With no facilities available in England he heads to Germany to train. Trouble is, while he has spirit, he has no trainer or knowledge of the sport. “How do you land?’ he wonders after one disastrous jump.
After a rough start—cue the wipe out montage—he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), once an Olympic champion, now a drunk who maintains the jumps. Peary doesn’t think Eddie has a shot, but the young man’s enthusiasm wears him down and soon he is training Eddie for the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. Ski jumping, he says, “is not just a sport, it’s an art. It’s spiritual.”
What Eddie lacks in technical skill he makes up for in determination. Because the Olympic rules hadn’t changed in 52 years since the last British ski jumper competed in the games, all Eddie has to do, basically, is show up and he’ll be guaranteed a spot in Calgary. First, however, he has to learn to jump without breaking every bone in his body.
Like Kendall Jenner or a YouTube cat video “Eddie the Eagle” is unashamed to flaunt its cuteness to appeal to viewers. Egerton, best known for his swaggerific role in “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” hands in a performance that makes Benny Hill look nuanced. With thick, ill-fitting glasses, he’s all doe eyes and determination, a stiff-upper-lipper who wants to be part of the Olympics to prove everyone who told him he wasn’t good enough wrong. It’s an underdog story of such epic proportions it makes “The Bad News Bears” and all other underdogs look jaded by comparison.
The movie’s tagline is, “Two underdogs, one dream,” so be assured, it doubles down on the long shot vibe. Jackman’s Peary is a man who once had it all, lost it and knows what it is like to be written off by everyone. He and Eddie are two peas in a pod and their dual ‘doing your best is the greatest reward’ message is the movie’s lesson. Nothing more, nothing less.
“Eddie the Eagle” is not an ambitious movie. It sets out to do one thing—make Eddie an underdog for the ages—but I couldn’t help but think of the words of the founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Coubertin. “It’s not the triumph,” he said, “it’s the struggle.” The film may triumph in that its modest goals are achieved but the struggle to tell a truly interesting story devoid of manipulation was too much for director Dexter Fletcher. “Eddie The Eagle” lands with a bit of a thud.