Taron Egerton as the eponymous eagle saves a fun underdog story from over sentimentality.
Much like the man himself, Eddie the Eagle wont be walking away with any awards, but that’s not to say it doesn’t soar like our spectacled British hero. Eddie Edwards made history at the 1988 Winter Olympics as the first Brit to represent Great Britain at ski jumping. As Britain’s best known and least competent ski jumper it’s a wonderfully fun underdog story that has its sentimentality all but shoved down your throat.
Taron Egerton charms as Eddie Edwards, clad in a selection of sweaters that could rival the Beatnik. Powered by nothing more than a sunny disposition, Edwards strives to achieve his Olympic dream. Hugh Jackman puts his claws away and takes the Wolverine gruff-irritation down a couple notches as Bronson Peary, Eddie’s fictional mentor and friend who needs nothing but a whisky jacket to brave the snow. The two actors make an enjoyable pair thanks to their chemistry but the dynamic is nothing we haven’t seen before. A bitter faded star that is coaxed out of hiding to mentor the wide-eyed hopeful in order to settle old scores with the sport. Unconventional training methods with a soft spot beneath the tough exterior tried and tested from Rocky to Surf’s Up. The story is helped along by a few half truths but it’s no issue; this is about the eagle and how he came to fly, not the people along the way.
Dexter Fletcher seems to be an ideal fix for the source material; Sunshine on Leith and Wild Bill demonstrate his penchant for a schmaltzy happily ever after. Mathew Vaughn produces but the rip roaring, irreverent pastiche from Kingsman: The Secret Service unfortunately fails to rub off. Eddie’s tribulations are played for laughs with Egerton’s goofy smile and his thumbs firmly pointing up. It’s comic but never condescending and embodies Baron de Coubertin’s foundational mantra when he founded the olympics, ‘The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in Life is not triumph, but the struggle’. Eddie is a hero and the film tries really hard to make it so. Too hard.
Eddie dreams of being an Olympian despite physical disability as a child, and despite his dad (Keith Allen) not believing in him. Tim McInnerny’s dastardly chairman of the British Olympic Committee even refuses to let Eddie compete on a technicality and adds a qualifying standard of 61m to the rulebook at the last minute. Egerton is endearing enough to make you wince every time Eddie is knocked back and despair when he falls on his last opportunity at qualification. But this is no gritty, Chris Nolan vision of Britain’s favourite heroic failure; Edwards of course qualifies through his successful practice jump. At Calgary Eddie finishes last in both his events, sets British records in his wake and wins the heart of the nation. Egerton and Fletcher play for laughs and in doing so fail to capture the dizzying vertigo of ski jumping or the beautiful scenery of the Canadian mountains. Customary training montages, bullying rivals and slow-motion cliche’s really undermine the off- kilter quirk the film strives towards.
For all its cheese you can’t help but root for Eddie. Sharing a lift with Matti ‘The Flying Finn’ Nykänen on route to the enormous 90m jump the difference in talent is far greater than Eddie’s 73.5m record. Yet they are bound by a resilient determination. The gold medalist sees himself in Edwards because he believes they both ‘jump to free our souls’. Cue a heart in mouth, hold your breath moment when Eddie jumps the 90m and soars like an eagle. He comes perilously close to falling but pulls himself up to adulating fist pumps and cheers.
The soppy attempts at reconciliation and redemption are unnecessary, Egerton’s infallible charm beneath the thick rim glasses is enough to win us over. The film has fun with the synthy, eighties soundtrack and even finishes with a delightfully corny freeze frame. A family friendly underdog tale crammed with cliche’s; Britains own Cool Runnings.
Eddie The Eagle (2016), directed by Dexter Fletcher is distributed in the UK by Lionsgate. Certificate PG.