There’s no denying this film is trying to recapture the feel-good glory of Cool Runnings – the events it ‘depicts’ (in the loosest of terms, there’s much of the film that is invented or altered for dramatic reasons) even happened at the very same Olympic Games. But you know what? Who cares! Eddie the Eagle is as fun as the trailer makes it look. There are laughs, edge-of-your-seat moments, and brilliant performances. Is it a bit of a retread over familiar content? Sure. It’s 100% a standard triumph-over-adversity tale. But there’s a reason archetypal stories exist – they work. And Eddie the Eagle really works.
Eddie (Taron Egerton) dreams of one day taking part in the Olympic Games. After narrowly missing out on a place in the downhill skiing team, Eddie turns his sights to ski jumping. The rules for the games at the time were quite lax, and given that Britain had no ski jumping team, it would be almost impossible for them to keep him from the games – as long as he met the minimum requirements.
Heading to Germany to train, Eddie persuades drunk and washed-up ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) to be his coach. The two of them work tenaciously to have Edi meet the minimum jump requirement and earn a place at the 1988 Winter Olympics. But the test of Eddie’s metal is only just beginning, with none of the athletes accepting him as a legitimate competitor at the games.
Embrace the clichés
This film is all about the clichés. Some might argue it didn’t need quite so many, but I embraced them wholeheartedly. Eddie the Eagle doesn’t try to be anything else – it is simply a fun, wholesome, amusing, and inspiring tale of an average guy overcoming the odds. How does a story like that escape the clichés? It doesn’t – it simply leans into them. If you are a major cliché hater, just don’t bother. But otherwise, this film is so wonderfully sweet that the clichés work. Where it could have been too soppy, the comedic elements are played up, avoiding the pitfalls of overly heartstring pulling.
No kidding, almost every possible trope in triumph-over-adversity films is touched upon in the film. No one thinks Eddie will be a success, not even his parents. He has no money to make his dreams happen, he even suffers physical setbacks (problem knees). No one will help him out once he does start training. He’s injured and thwarted at every turn but he never gives up. Even when he runs the risk of becoming a joke, that in itself simply becomes another obstacle for him to overcome; the public’s perception of him as a loser and a goof is soon overturned. Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards proves that what really matters is the journey, not the winning – and what makes a man great is his spirit and sportsmanship.
Without the undeniable charisma of both Egerton and Jackman, this film could easily have fallen flat. Egerton is rapidly proving himself as a versatile actor. Much like Ruffalo in Spotlight, Egerton’s entire physical demeanor is changed from his rough neighbourhood swagger in Kingsman, proving himself a chameleonic character. Eddie ‘the Eagle’ Edwards would be an easy person to ‘make fun of’ in such a portrayal, but you never feel Egerton’s performance is laughing at Edwards – it is entirely earnest and reverential.
Hugh Jackman is his usual glorious self – I mean, really, need I say more? Even his wide-eyed young costar was in awe, with Egerton reportedly saying ‘Hugh Jackman has got guns to die for. Have you seen his arms? They are bigger than my head!’ If anyone was going to try to fill John Candy’s enormous shoes in a similar-feeling film, they could not have chosen better than Jackman. He carries off the disgraced sportsman trying to do right with the perfect balance of cavalier, pessimistic, and stick-it-to-the-man attitudes.
What was it about the 1988 Winter Olympics that made it so ripe for incredible stories? It all feels rather naïve. Of course, now there are many more rules in place to ensure that no one bar the very top athletes ever makes it to the Olympics, but even if they did, I can’t imagine it would have the same epic quality. The bad hair, the glasses, the soundtrack, all of that 80’s gloriousness on-screen helps make the film likeable. If this kind of straight-up feel-good tale was told in a contemporary setting, audiences would likely roll their eyes. No one is that sweet and naïve, not in 2016. But back in 1988? We can believe that. Why the hell not?!
Verdict: Completely cliché and predictable but utterly enjoyable. I laughed and held my breath for Eddie as he fought for his right to ‘have a go’. Highly recommended.
Eddie the Eagle is released in the UK on March 28.