Dir: Dexter Fletcher. US/UK. 2016. 106mins
Eddie The Eagle is aggressively likable, but this inspirational sports movie’s consistently breezy disposability ends up being a crutch as much as a selling point. Telling the story of Eddie Edwards, the unknown British ski jumper who captured the world’s imagination when he competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics, this enjoyable comedy makes some decent points about our warped perception of what constitutes athletic achievement. Still, Taron Egerton’s shtick-heavy performance as Eddie falls in line with a film that’s ultimately so concerned with going for superficial pleasures that they start to lose their novelty.
As sunny as Eddie The Eagle is, its greatest liability is that it never pushes itself, content to let an amiable true-life tale be turned into a generic genre exercise.
After its secret screening at the Sundance Film Festival, Eddie The Eagle will open in the US on February 28, landing in the UK a month later. Egerton, the star of Kingsman: The Secret Service, might attract viewers, but just as likely they’ll be drawn by Hugh Jackman in a supporting role. (Other name actors, such as Christopher Walken and Jim Broadbent, have tiny roles.) The real question is whether enough people will remember Edwards’ exploits nearly 30 years after the fact to want to see a movie about them. Eddie The Eagle’s feel-good tone will stir up some solid word of mouth, but the film’s small stakes may make it a more appealing small-screen affair.
Directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine On Leith) and produced by Matthew Vaughn (who directed Kingsman), Eddie The Eagle traces the quixotic journey of Eddie Edwards (Egerton), who from an early age was convinced he was going to be an Olympic athlete, an ambitious goal considering his noticeable lack of natural ability. But after being informed that he’s been cut from Britain’s downhill skiing team, he decides that perhaps he has a shot at the ski jump, a sport at which his countrymen aren’t strong. Recruiting a drunken former American star, Bronson Peary (Jackman), to be his coach, Eddie has his eyes set on the ’88 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
Edwards, who got the nickname “Eddie The Eagle” because of a joyful arm-flapping routine he’d deliver after successful jumps, didn’t win a medal at the Olympics, but he became a minor legend because of the enthusiasm he exuded, the thrill of participating more important than winning. (A good thing, given he finished dead last in the field.)
The affection that fans had for him was, in large part, an acknowledgment of Edwards as a real-life underdog, and Eddie The Eagle takes that notion and runs with it — in the process, running it into the ground.
To be sure, this can be an awfully sweet movie. Fletcher and screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton dole out plenty of sports-movie clichés, squeezing them for every ounce of fun the filmmakers can muster. Not surprisingly, this comedy boasts a slight tongue-in-cheek tone that seems to be Fletcher’s way of owning up to the fact that he’s rifling through well-worn conventions. (Sometimes, that’s the joke of the scene, such as when Bronson’s past failures are recapped in knowingly overly-expository detail during a news broadcast.)
But Eddie The Eagle is marred by Egerton’s overly cutesy portrayal. Envisioning Edwards as a lovable nerd — always pushing his glasses back to the bridge of his nose, constantly offering a giddy thumbs-up when something good happens — the young actor makes the character lightly lovable throughout, his boundless optimism weirdly compelling. But Egerton’s performance is so broad that it becomes one-note, a bold choice but not a very successful one. The film views Eddie as such a goofy innocent that he’s more of a moppet than a truly heart-warming example of perseverance triumphing in the face of others’ negativity.
Jackman’s natural charisma goes a long way towards selling this sarcastic, eventually supportive coach who left the ski-jumping world in disgrace. Part cowboy, part ersatz motivational speaker — he helps Edwards visualise a successful jump by making him imagine he’s having sex with Bo Derek — Bronson is a sports-movie type just like Edwards, and Jackman brings a leavening sense of humour that gives the narrative familiarity a certain jolliness.
Eddie The Eagle’s pleasurable predictability is its greatest commodity, and Fletcher keeps things humming along at a nice pace so that we can practically bob our heads to the film’s steady rhythm. But the approach strips Edwards’ story of any complexity, the script awkwardly having characters tell him at the beginning of the movie that he’ll never be an Olympic athlete — dialogue that will, of course, be echoed in Edwards’ head later during crucial moments. He and Bronson both have obstacles they need to overcome, but Eddie The Eagle makes sure they do in the most frictionless way possible.
What made Eddie’s story so memorable is that, even though he wasn’t enormously talented, he had the will to push himself beyond his physical limitations. As sunny as Eddie The Eagle is, its greatest liability is that it never pushes itself, content to let an amiable true-life tale be turned into a generic genre exercise.
Production companies: Marv, Studio Babelsberg, Saville Productions
Worldwide distribution (outside UK): Fox, www.foxmovies.com
UK distribution: Lionsgate UK
Producers: Matthew Vaughn, Adam Bohling, David Reid, Rupert Maconick, Valerie Van Galder
Executive producers: Stephen Marks, Claudia Vaughn, Pierre Lagrange, Peter Morton, Zygi Kamasa
Screenplay: Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, story by Simon Kelton, based on the life story of Eddie Edwards
Cinematography: George Richmond
Production design: Mike Gunn
Editor: Martin Walsh
Music: Matthew Margeson
Main Cast: Taron Egerton, Iris Berben, Tim McInnerny, Hugh Jackman, Keith Allen, Mark Benton, Jo Hartley