Eddie the Eagle film

EDDIE THE EAGLE Review: Blissful, Limited Accomplishment

Monday, February 29, 2016 Rob Samuelson

Eddie the Eagle

Director: Dexter Fletcher
Writers: Sean Macaulay, Simon Kelton
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen
Rating: Three and a half stars out of five
Available in theaters now

Eddie the Eagle is a movie that knows exactly what it is and it is proud to be exactly that. It couldn’t be more paint-by-numbers as far as plot structure goes. It is more saccharine than a wedding cake and it might be the most dumbly earnest “inspirational sports movie” to hit theaters this decade. And it is wonderful.

The movie tells the story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards, a gawky working class kid from England who spent large portions of his childhood in and out of hospitals, a leg brace dragging down his ability to achieve his lofty dreams worse than any ball and chain could. Beginning in flashback, a young Eddie holds a stopwatch above the surface of his bathtub water while he counts away the seconds. He gets to just under a minute and he jolts up, his goggles and bathing suit dripping all over the floor. His elation is palpable. His training is underway. He is going to the Olympics, as he repeats to his mother over and over again throughout his childhood.

Eddie, played as an adult by Kingsman: The Secret Service’s Taron Egerton, eventually outgrows the need for the leg brace, but his athletic abilities never match his ambitions. He tries every sport in the book -- literally, he has a book about Olympic greats -- but all he does is collect broken pair of glasses after broken pair of glasses in the tin his mother insists is for storing his future medals.

There are no surprises whatsoever in this setup. His mother (Jo Hartley) is optimistic, forever encouraging Eddie to keep his head up, instilling in him his own determination to accomplish something with his life while his father (Keith Allen) is a curmudgeonly middle-aged man who has given up on whatever dreams he had as a young man to become a plasterer – he “suggests” to Eddie that he do the same. Hugh Jackman, as a drunken disgrace of a former American ski jumper with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, is won over by Eddie's heart and desire to improve – and maybe a little motivation is provided by not wanting to see this newbie break his neck – so he becomes Eddie's coach. The British Olympic Committee, in classic snobs-versus-slobs fashion, throws a wrench into every attempt Eddie makes to qualify for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary so they won't be embarrassed by the results. There is a heartwarming conclusion.

But Eddie the Eagle has a couple extra things on its mind. They exist on the edges of its formulaic plot, and they are what keep the movie from dissolving into drivel. There is a sly and deeply funny point being made amid the inspirational quotes about the nobility of competition itself regardless of the skill level of those competing. It is that Eddie is really bad at this. This is not Rocky, where the plucky fighter can go toe-to-toe with the champ. There is never a point in Eddie the Eagle where Eddie stands a chance of actually being a contender. He qualifies for the Games via loopholes and a lack of any other British ski jumpers for decades before him. And it takes a lifetime of hard work just for him to reach the level of being the worst professional in the sport. It is not meant to dissuade anyone from trying their best, because it certainly doesn't get in the way of Eddie's own pursuit of mediocrity – you might get lucky and set some national records while you're at it.

As Eddie, Egerton shows that he is more than just the snotty charm offensive that made him such an effective satirical action hero in Kingsman. He put on a little weight for the role. The glasses magnify his eyes just enough to appear vaguely bug-like. Eddie's severe underbite means the actor portraying him has to speak with his jaw jutted out the entire time. It gives Eddie a good-natured grimace for the film's runtime, which is endearing and impossible to root against, especially when paired with the overall story of a guy using his limited gifts to do something nobody in his country had done.

Similarly, Jackman is the gruff guy with a soft spot for the underdog. His American accent is bizarrely all over the place, but it barely matters. He beams with pride at the limited accomplishments made by his young charge, and the pair's enthusiasm for their gravity- and death-defying antics on the world's biggest stage is what makes the movie.

It helps that director Dexter Fletcher, himself a likable working actor perhaps best known to American audiences for Guy Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, imbues the movie's imagery with some “gadzooks” wow factor. The CGI can be a little dodgy at times – certain ski jumpers' missed landings and subsequent tumbles can look weightless, limiting their visceral impact on a viewer – but when left to the devices of a moving camera, Fletcher can do some powerful things. The slides along a wire up the slopes at a rapid pace to meet Eddie as he looks down gingerly with a “how do I make this work?” look on his face, and the closeups of Eddie's joy during his jumps is the best kind of fun movies can be.

There is little Eddie the Eagle does to transcend its limited goals, much like its protagonist. But it accomplishes exactly what it set out to do, and it does so lovably. It's probably a step or two below great, but that's no matter. Sometimes an earnest romp is all you need.

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