It’s very rare for a film about sports to not ooze with inspiration. After all, sports are all about winning… wait, no, that’s wrong. It’s not about winning, it’s how you play the game. And because sports movies are almost always about the underdog (someone who comes from a less-than-stellar background who will do anything to make his or her dreams come true) persevering among better, more capable athletes, it’s easy to root for that young kid, or the less-than-athletic competitor bleeding tenacity to prove they belong with the best. It’s about never giving up, no matter how hard the climb, or how much adversity must be faced. No more is this idea manifested than in 1993’s Rudy, which did a brilliant job pulling the viewer in with a relatable character who didn’t let anything or anyone keep him from achieving that dream. Eddie the Eagle tries to capture that same magic with its true story of an underdog ski jumper, but no matter how likable the characters are, or how inspirational the film may aspire to be, the filmmakers fell a little short when it comes to the one element of a film that can’t be measured in words.
Actually, when you think about it, Eddie actually has more in common with Cool Runnings. Just hear me out. A has-been Olympic athlete is reluctantly roped into teaching/coaching a team of kids in a winter Olympic sport they have no purpose being a part of, only to become attached to them like family as the team rises above adversity to show the world they can compete with the best of them. Replace “team of kids” with “a kid” and you’ve basically got the logline for both films. And though Eddie doesn’t break any of the rules, or stray at all from the formula set by inspirational sports films of the past, what’s missing is the rousing excitement that begs you to stand on your feet and clap for the accomplishments that were achieved, by which I mean, I could see director Dexter Fletcher struggling to find that right mix of humor, drama and inspiration.
Michael “Eddie” Edwards (an unrecognizable Taron Egerton) is a young kid from England whose only goal in life is to one day make it to the Olympics. From a small child with bad knees (having to wear a leg brace for the first ten or twelve years of his life), he’s done everything he could to find a way to reach that goal, even after the doctor told him that he shouldn’t participate in sports. His mum (Jo Hartley) is super supportive, encouraging him to pursue his dream at every turn, even letting him “run away” to the Olympics at eight years old when he deems himself worthy enough. His dad (Keith Allen), of course, is exactly the opposite, constantly pushing his son to explore more realistic options and do something that will actually pay the bills. After all, what does it pay to be be an Olympic athlete? But when his dad takes him to a job site that sits just outside of a winter sports training facility, Eddie forgoes his dreams of making the summer Olympics, and instead turns his attention to making it to the winter Olympics as a skier.
No one makes it easy for him. On the cusp of trials for the 1988 Calgary Olympics, Eddie’s told by the British Olympic Committee that he’s not good enough to join the downhill skiing team. The announcement is devastating, but just before hanging up his skis for good, Eddie gets a new idea: how about ski jumping, for which Britain hasn’t had a participant since the 20s? With the help of his gracious mum, Eddie heads to Germany to start training, never once letting the fact that he’s never jumped before deter him. There he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a retired (washed-up?) ski jumper whose only jacket is a flask of whiskey. The only reason Bronson even considers helping Eddie (other than keeping him from getting killed) is to get the annoying kid out of his hair. But as time passes, and he witnesses Eddie’s persistence to build and grow a talent that is anything but natural, Bronson learns the life lessons that he was too bullheaded to learn when he was the same age.
Egerton and Jackman are a good pair, working together to strengthen each other. But aside from the genuine relationship Eddie builds with Bronson, I found it fascinating how fast Eddie acclimated to a sport he had never done before. Not only was he unwilling to give up, even after crashing and burning several dozen times in a row on one of the smaller ramps, but it only took him around six months to go from the smallest, easiest jump to the highest, most difficult jump. That right there shows true grit and bravery, and is the real inspiration layered across the film. Eddie’s original goal was to reach the Olympics, but once there, the goal becomes more to prove to everyone that he isn’t a sideshow; that even though he got in on somewhat of a technicality, and isn’t anywhere near ready to be there, he takes the sport seriously, needing to show the world he’s the real deal.
The good thing is, it doesn’t come off heavy-handed, even though the way it’s done can get a little cheesy. But there in lies the fun of this experiment. The movie takes place in the late 80s, and Fletcher does everything he can to make it feel like an 80s film, right down to the overabundance of electronic music that feels as if it was recorded in that era. (I have to admit, when I first heard that synth start to play, I couldn’t help but smile a little.) Not to be outdone, somewhat cheesy special effects and somewhat cheesy sentimentality all add to a nostalgia that I never knew I wanted. But at the same time, Fletcher tries a little too hard to throw what he can into the mix, and with that, the overall feel of the film becomes a bit labored — but not by much. In the end, Eddie comes together to do what it was meant to do. It may not be at the same level or the same caliber a movie as Cool Runnings or Rudy, but it’s still able to win your heart.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include London Has Fallen, Zootopia and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.