I’m just going to say this right up front: Eddie The Eagle starring Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and Hugh Jackman is obnoxiously uplifting and inspiring. Despite all of its tired sports’ film tropes or, actually, because of them the story of England’s first Olympic ski jumper in over fifty years becomes a cinematic ode to cheesy 80s movies.
This is, nearly, solely due to the film’s subject, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. Before the doctor even removes the brace from his leg, young Eddie is determined to be an Olympian. His complete and utter lack of physical prowess does not deter him in the least. It, actually, leads him to realize that he would be better suited competing as a downhill skier in the upcoming 1988 Winter Olympics.
Early on in the film, Eddie realizes that it’s not just his lack of talent that he has to battle but the British class system, as well. Not only does his working class father constantly badger him to work in construction full time, England’s Olympic committee doesn’t want the son of a construction worker representing their country.
Other than his mother and a kindly German cougar (Ania Sownski), no one believes in the young Olympian hopeful. Of course, we’ve seen this movie countless times before (maybe, minus the German cougar). Cool Runnings (which has a nice, little shout out) and Billy Elliot and countless others are all cherry-picked here. The synthesizer heavy soundtrack, the working-class, disapproving father, and the ski slope bullies (Norwegian Olympians in this film) all bombard you and it doesn’t stop until you’re cheering at the end.
Fresh off of the hype from the ultra-violent comic book movie Kingsman, Taron Egerton shows what a lot of young actors lack – a sense of humility and dedication to his craft. It would’ve been easy and, almost, expected for a hot, young star to continue his blockbuster streak by jumping into whatever YA adaptation of Harry Potter knock-off a major studio was pushing. Nearly unrecognizable from his earlier film, Egerton plays Eddie as a simple (but not stupid) man with lofty goals and the blind dedication to reach them.
Hugh Jackman, meanwhile, takes a break from the X-Men franchise to play former disgraced Olympic ski jumper Bronson Peary. For a washed-up, alcoholic Peary is pretty freakin’ buff and that’s, rather, distracting – you’d think after all of that drinking and sitting around you’d put on a pound or two. (Yes, even distracting for a straight male film critic.) Playing more or less the film’s equivalent to Cool Running‘s John Candy, Jackman constantly has a cigarette and flask as he maintains the German slopes the skiers train on.
Another stock character pulled from the cannon of sports films, in a movie full of them, the reluctant, gruff, alcoholic mentor is not necessarily elevated but celebrated by Jackman’s performance. After a bar brawl with the Norwegian coach, he breaks into Norway’s training facility with Eddie. During this drunk late-night rambling, Peary shows his true passion for the sport and, inadvertently, becomes Eddie’s coach.
After montage after montage (the film begins with a montage for Christsake), Eddie finally makes it to Canada and to the 1988 Olympics. By this point the actors and filmmakers have you enjoying yourself so much that you actually appreciate the use of Van Halen’s “Jump” in the final act.
In keeping with director Dexter Fletcher’s love of cliches, Eddie the Eagle is the feel good film of the year. The film does treat its subject earnestly, mind you, and it’s easy to imagine all the cheesy clichés that they embrace becoming ninety minutes of groans. Though Egerton physically portrays Eddie (disappearing behind large dorky glasses and a terrible mustache) the film, itself, conveys the spirit of Eddie. Never taking itself too seriously and embracing its own awkward, silly roots, Eddie the Eagle soars. (Sorry, clichés are pretty addictive.)