Eddie the Eagle is a light-hearted and thoroughly inspiring underdog tale – with lovable performances from Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton.
A charming and determined child, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) became obsessed with olympic athletes – despite lacking natural athletic skills of his own. To achieve his dream of competing as an Olympian for Great Britain, the unassuming sports enthusiast doubled-down on his training – working harder and with more enthusiasm than his rivals. To the surprise of his parents, Eddie’s determination paid-off: the Olympic hopeful became an accomplished downhill skier – even breaking a number of local records. However, Eddie’s unconventional personality and appearance became a concern for priggish British Olympic officials – and he was dismissed from the 1988 downhill ski team (in favor of athletes with inherent “Olympic material”).
Instead of allowing his Olympic dream to be dashed, Eddie began training as a ski jumper – in the hopes of competing in the 1988 Games as the sole British jumper. Thanks to outdated qualification guidelines that had not been updated in over 50 years, and no other British athletes vying for a ski jumping spot, Eddie set out to meet the minimum requirements – and become an Olympian. Yet, along the way, Eddie befriends a former ski jump champion, Bronson Peary Hugh Jackman, who challenges the aspiring athlete to set an even higher goal: don’t just make it to the Olympics, do your best.
Based on a true story, Eddie the Eagle is a light-hearted and thoroughly inspiring underdog tale – with lovable performances from Hugh Jackman and Taron Egerton. Actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher traces plenty of familiar biopic plot beats in his ski jumping dramedy but unique subject matter, a charming hero, and some clever filmmaking flourishes (along with a whimsical retro score from Gary Barlow), help Eddie the Eagle fly higher than similar dark horse stories. That said, Fletcher leans hard on quirk for his depiction of Eddie’s journey to the Olympics, often at the expense of historical fact – meaning, some moviegoers will be less impressed by the film’s playful tone.
In fact, Eddie the Eagle is more fictional allegory than true-to-life docudrama – and the filmmaker, as well as the movie’s real-life star, have been clear that a lot of liberties were taken in order to capture the spirit of Eddie’s story in a quality film experience. To that end, the core storyline has been simplified, and reworked, enough that some viewers may feel cheated when they separate fact from fiction later on. Nevertheless, changes serve the central thrust of the film – a tale of overcoming adversity, facing fears, and inspiring others to blast through insecurity and self-imposed limitations.
In terms of cinematography, the ski jump backdrop affords Fletcher room to play. Beyond vintage 1980s flavoring (and neon campri jackets), the director takes full advantage of poignant contrast between the high-speed jumps and gravity-defying soars that make ski jumping so exciting to watch. Like any good Olympic biopic, Eddie the Eagle is a celebration of the sport and sportsmanship – one that should give audiences a greater understanding (and appreciation) of ski jumpers, past and present. Fletcher manages to communicate both the danger and grace of the sport – while putting viewers right between Eddie’s eyes for several of his most iconic jumps.
In coordination with a spirited script (by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton) and slick shots of “The Eagle” soaring, Taron Egerton’s performance ensures that Eddie is a nuanced (albeit peculiar) hero – rather than a cartoonish comedy outline. A less thoughtful production might have portrayed Eddie as an awkward outcast that, in spite of his idiosyncrasies, manages to defy expectations and social conventions. Yet, with Egerton imbuing the eccentric ski jumper with an endearing innocence and hardened thirst for glory, Fletcher can present a convincing world in which Eddie inspires everyday people near and far, not just sport-fans and his coach, to chase their dreams. Like the larger film, Egerton’s cheeky interpretation of Eddie’s mannerisms, avoid painting the Olympian as a cookie-cutter underdog; instead, the performance and the full film celebrate Eddie’s eccentricities as his greatest strengths.
Hugh Jackman is, unsurprisingly, a scene-stealer as Eddie’s American coach, Bronson Peary – an entirely made-up character with his own emotional arc to navigate. Still, even though Peary has no real-world counterpart, the coach (aided by a lively turn from Jackman) shines as both Eddie’s mentor and as an example of how The Eagle’s tenacity and enthusiasm impacted the people around him. Jackman isn’t far outside of his comfort zone in the part, riffing on similar gruff-but-fetching characters from the actor’s filmography; yet, Fletcher still makes smart use of Jackman in several stand-out scenes of heart and humor – one moment even rivals Meg Ryan’s iconic fake orgasm from When Harry Met Sally.
In a genre where honoring a historical figure often results in dry drama played with a straight face, Eddie the Eagle is be an amusing change of pace – one with a positive message for dreamers, both kids and adults, alike. It may be an exaggerated portrayal of Eddie Edwards but it’s all the more intimate as a result – setting aside what exactly happened between 1986 and 1988 in order to relay what made Eddie an inspiration. In the same way that Eddie embodied the spirit of the Games, even if he didn’t get Olympic gold, Fletcher’s biopic succeeds as an engaging break from self-serious historical dramas, even if it isn’t likely to win Oscar gold.
Eddie the Eagle runs 105 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking. Now playing in theaters.
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