A cheery tale of unlikely sporting triumph, “Eddie the Eagle,” directed by Dexter Fletcher, offers up a retro feel-good yarn about the power of determination. While it’s often cookie-cutter sports movie conventional, you’d have to be stone-hearted to remain un-charmed by the story of real-life British ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards, played by rising star Taron Egerton.
As a kid, enthusiastic young Eddie declares he’s going to be an Olympian, despite his corrective leg braces and coke bottle glasses, to the bemusement of his sweetly supportive mum (Jo Hartley), and disappointment of his pragmatic working class dad (Keith Allen). Training his sights on the Winter Olympics, he finds some success as a downhill skier, until the British Olympic team rudely turns up their noses up at him. But nothing stops Eddie, and armed with the knowledge that Britain hasn’t fielded a ski jumper since the 1920s, he figures the odds are in his favor to qualify for the Games.
Because winning isn’t what Eddie cares about — all he wants is to participate. This point is reiterated by the repetition of a quote from Pierre de Coubertin, that, “the most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.” For Eddie, taking part has always been the goal, but ultimately, he discovers his real challenge is to take himself seriously, and therefore have others take him seriously.
But Eddie wins hearts with his unabashed chipper goofiness. Lacking natural talent and training, he relies on his can-do spirit and eagerness to fling himself down increasingly tall ski jumps. Certified hunk Egerton (“Kingsman,” “Legend”) has been given a typical Hollywood treatment to render himself homely — outlandish glasses and frizzy hair. But Egerton proves himself to be a performer lacking in vanity and gifted with physical chops, adding a sideways grimace and bumbling gait to fully transform himself.
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There are many who will see “Eddie the Eagle” as a British “Cool Runnings.” It’s an apt comparison, and there is a reference to the Jamaican bobsled team. Both films culminate at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and tell the tales of misfit athletes with indefatigable spirits striving for a piece of glory. Though their quests seem impossible, and there are plenty of naysayers along the way to remind them of that, these oddball heroes with humble hearts and pure intentions provide great inspiration in just sticking their necks out; in their sheer will, a willingness to want and to work for a bit of greatness.
The screenplay, by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, takes liberties with the real Eddie Edwards story. Eddie finds a drunken, washed-up American ski jumper in Germany to train him, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a character who has been made up out of whole cloth, as the real Edwards trained with a pair of coaches in Lake Placid. But autobiographical details aren’t what this story’s about. A foil to Eddie, Jackman provides a frisson of sexy danger, and his outcast status allows a doubling down on the dark horse qualities that make eventual success taste that much better. The manipulation of the story details demonstrates the filmmakers’ skill in execution — like a perfect ski jump, they lean into that sweet spot of lovable underdog sports flick, and stick the landing.
Eddie the Eagle
Rated: PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking. Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Keith Allen. Director: Dexter Fletcher. Running time: 105 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 14, Majestic 18, Village Cinema.