Eddie the Eagle (2016) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny, Rune Temte, Christopher Walken, Jim Broadbent, Iris Berben, Daniel Ings, Matti Nykanen
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Screenplay: Sean Macaulay, Simon Kelton
Review published February 28, 2016
Directed by Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Wild Bill), Eddie the Eagle tells the story of Michael "Eddie" Edwards, who would find fifteen minutes of fame as an Olympic ski jumper for Great Britain at the 1988 Winter Games. Taron Egerton (Legend, Testament of Youth) stars as Edwards, an awkward lad growing up with poor vision and a leg brace who dreamed a seemingly impossible dream of one day representing his country at the Olympics. Failing to be coordinated enough to master anything to do with track and field without busting up his ill-fitting glasses or nearby windows, Eddie's eyes would shift from Summer Olympics to Winter, starting as a klutzy downhill skier, finally settling in on ski jumping as the event he thought he'd have the best chance at, though Great Britain had given up supporting that event since the 1920s.
Starting in his early twenties in a sport that most who compete begin when they're just entering grade school, Eddie's going to have his work cut out for him if he's going to make a spot on the Olympic team heading to Calgary for the 1988 Winter Olympics. Practicing in Garsmisch, Germany, he's destined for permanent injury on his own until he meets Bronson Peary (Jackman, Pan), an alcoholic American former ski jumper who plows the snow at the German course, who ends up taking 'the Eagle' under his wing. However, naysayers and bullies offer little but discouragement, especially from the British Olympic Council that desires Eddie out of the games before he embarrasses not only himself, but the other athletes representing the proud country.
Eddie the Eagle is a comedic interpretation of a true story, injected with lots of contrived moments to punch up the humor and crowd-pleasing elements for maximum effect. Some viewers may be disappointed to learn that the filmmakers have elevated Eddie into a comic caricature and his story into some sort of tall tale. The real-life Edwards has stated that the film is mostly fictionalized (indeed, Hugh Jackman's character is entirely fabricated, as is Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys) as Jackman's one-time mentor), so it's best to treat this as such and not hold it to the standards of a traditional biopic. However, the way that Fletcher tells the story, working from a script by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, does seem to be in keeping with the nature of the man it's about: a likeably offbeat underdog willing to love itself despite its inherent cheesy qualities.
The movie embraces the feel and tone of films of the 1980s, with a dash of Better Off Dead, complete with the schmaltzy tone and accompanying synthesized score so popular in sports cinema of the times. Along with the score comes a plethora of 1980s hits, such as a training montage featuring Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams" and a jump sequence featuring Van Halen's (you guessed it) "Jump". Most are quite on-the-nose to their respective scenes, but I'll give you credit if you can figure out why Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Two Tribes" is used for one of the jump sequences early in the film. The campy nature of the film especially works in its favor given that the CGI involved in the jump sequences is very obvious much of the time, which would definitely have detracted from a straightforward drama.
In a role originally cast by Steve Coogan, then Rupert Grint, Taron Egerton, who impressed so well in his breakthrough role in Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Eddie the Eagle producer Matthew Vaughn, is perhaps a bit miscast in the role, mostly because there's a twinge of mockery in the way he plays the Eddie that generally feels like he's playing up the dorkier nature of the character in a deliberately knowing, overly emotive shtick. Hugh Jackman is more assured in the tone of the film, though Fletcher does him no favors by making his character a chronic booze-swiller (but in great shape) to the point of absurdity, and the humor trite enough to include pratfalls and spit takes rare to find outside of an Adam Sandler vehicle.
As with most formula sports movies, you know where the tongue-in-cheek film is going, but its ability to have you root the main characters of proves too hard to resist, leaving you feeling quite a rush by the finale. As a companion piece to Disney's Cool Runnings, which featured a similar story of a Jamaican bobsled team at, coincidentally, the same Winter Games in Calgary, it should make for an amusing and inspirational night of Olympics underdog glory for those into such fare.
©2016 Vince Leo