Sports films have an undeniable tendency to rile up even the most resistant of viewers like no other genre can. Even mediocre examples can be salvaged by cheering audiences participating in the jest of the potential win while glossing over the actual integrity of the film. Even more so, audiences love an underdog tale. These films about athletes beating the odds to accomplish the impossible and unthinkable are easy to digest, and Eddie the Eagle is one of them.
The film is inspired by the true story of unflappable British ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, who made his improbable dreams come true at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, despite physical obstacles and incredulous and mocking reactions from the many individuals who didn’t believe he’d get to the prestigious event, including his father. Eddie (Taron Egerton) has been denied athletics from a young age, but nothing ever stopped him from reaching his dreams of making it to the Olympics. Constantly on the move, despite his right leg hobbled by a leather brace since he was a young child, Eddie continues his obsession with his Olympic picture book as his dreams grow even larger.
As soon as the brace comes off his Olympic aspirations expand to even greater lengths, to the point of involving himself in makeshift Olympic events and antics that include alleyway hurdles and javelin throws that nearly break his body – and a few windows – in the process.
Chastised by his father (Keith Allen) for what he sees as a wasteful and petty dream, Eddie’s hope for glory are further hindered by members of the British ski team for his lack of expertise and talent. However, that doesn’t stop Eddie’s bumbling happy-go-lucky nature from giving way to negativity. Eddie’s passion leads him to Olympic ski jumping, an unexplored territory for Britain since 1929.
Despite his father’s pessimism, Eddie – with the support of his only cheerleader, his mother (Jo Hartley) – heads out to Germany in an attempt to qualify for the Olympics teeming with talented competition, particularly the Norwegian ski jumpers. Often ridiculed and discredited Eddie trudges on with his trademark thumbs up, focused on the ’88 Olympics, never taking no for an answer.
Egerton is brilliant as Eddie, getting the performance down to the many dorky and idiosyncratic mannerisms. His chemistry with co-star Hugh Jackman, who plays alcoholic coach and former American ski jumper Bronson Peary, is forged with unbridled talent. Like all these type of sports films go, the amateur can’t quite convince the expert to create a pathway to success. The two feed off each other’s very different personas the two strike an unshakable and unlikely bond; Eddie is timid and modest – often clueless and naive – the type to order a glass of milk at a bar (which he does).
On the other hand, Bronson sports the aura of a former jock who’s hit the bottle hard, carrying around a “jacket” (his red,white, and blue dented flask) that shields him from the cold and his past. Just like the audience, Bronson is eventually charmed by Eddie’s unwavering personality.
The film can feel unbalanced at times, taking a few too many moments to get to the point, dragging the second act with repetitive characterization. Adding to this, Eddie goes through an avalanche of obstacles that feel excessive, despite the story’s true nature. The film’s pacing begins to sag towards the middle as the obstacles continue to mount, suspending the film’s truly thrilling and triumphant final moments. Whether it’s his limitations as an amateur, his father, or the British olympic committee, it all feels unnecessarily piled on poor Eddie.
Despite these minor shortcomings, however, Eddie the Eagle delivers with a script that will put a smile on your face and offers plenty of comical moments, with most of the film’s charm exuberantly exhibited by the film’s leads.
Eddie the Eagle is a triumphant and crowd-pleasing film that will keep you cheering until the exciting and suspenseful finale (especially if you know nothing about Eddie Edwards). This isn’t a perfect film, like its titular hero, but it’s got heart and passion; key ingredients for any proper underdog sports movie, a genre often dictated by certain expectations. Nevertheless, here’s a charming film that earns medals for both Jackman and Egerton, victors as they thaw the icy snows (and hearts) of the North with some fine performances.