The story of England’s most unlikely Olympian — a ski jumper who charmed the 1988 Games with his ineptitude — is turned into a film that follows a familiar formula
Eddie The Eagle
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Running time: 105 minutes
Rating: 2½ stars out of 5
By Jay Stone
The 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary were great fodder for movies about heroically loveable losers. First came the 1993 film Cool Runnings about the unlikely journey of the Jamaican bobsled team from the beaches to the Rockies. Now we have Eddie The Eagle, a comically inspirational picture about Eddie Edwards, the Englishman who won hearts as the worst ski jumper in Alberta.
Why a movie has been made 27 years after the fact is just one of the bits of incomprehensible flotsam and jetsam that float around Eddie The Eagle. It’s a fictionalized account of a true story that packs in every manner of cinematic formula — an alcoholic coach who must himself be redeemed by this unlikely athlete; a father who doesn’t believe in his son’s dreams until, magically, he does; a soundtrack that vacillates between tinkly sentiment and heroic bravura — in its long leap to that final, crowd-pleasing landing on the slopes near what the film calls “Calgary, Canada.” You’re not sure whether to stand and cheer or to throw yourself off a 90-metre ski jump just to get it over with.
Eddie The Eagle introduces its hero as a nerdy child with glasses and a bum leg who imagines himself an Olympic athlete in pole vaulting (a broken pole), javelin (a broken window) or holding his breath underwater (a broken critical spirit.) No one believes in him except mom and possibly Matthew Margeson, the composer whose electronic score underlines every perceived emotion in the picture.
Eddie grows up to be Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), whose thick glasses and outthrust jaw give him a rather alarming resemblance to Bubbles, the least sophisticated of the Trailer Park Boys. Like Bubbles, Eddie is something of an overgrown child: he doesn’t drink, appears alarmed at the prospect of sex, and glares through his Coke-bottle glasses with such naïve dedication that you’d worry for his safety if you didn’t know exactly where the movie was going from the first scene.
Unable to qualify as an Olympic skier (“Frankly Eddie you will never be Olympic material,” says the snooty head of the English team. Just you wait!), Eddie discovers that he can instead become England’s one-person ski jump team, the first such athlete from that country since 1929. All he has to do, really, is to learn to ski jump.
He heads off to a German training facility with nothing but his determination and some old skis. There he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman in a pretty good American accent), a former member of the U.S. ski jump team now fallen on hard times due to his drinking and his inability to think of others. He first refuses to help, but soon he’s playing Burgess Meredith to Eddie’s Rocky: the washed-up old timer seduced by the impetuous young kid in whom, just maybe, he sees a bit of himself.
It’s a portrait that would be more persuasive if the lean, fit Jackman didn’t look like he could hit the podium in just about any Olympic sport he decided to enter. Nor is it helped by the third-act appearance of Christopher Walken in an odd and sallow cameo as Peary’s old coach who goes on TV to report what a bad teammate he was.
Eddie faces a few obstacles along the way — including the villainous Norwegian ski team and most of the Olympic establishment — but he eventually wins everyone’s heart and becomes a great ambassador for the idea of an amateur who doesn’t know what he’s doing nevertheless getting more publicity that the champion (the screenplay, by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, features such unlikelihoods as Eddie going last in the competition, rather than first, to build the drama.)
Director Dexter Fletcher adds some excitement by having his cameras fly into the air with Eddie so we get an idea of what it’s like to jump off the biggest slopes. As Peary says, Eddie proved himself as a winner by not immediately giving up the way most people would when they get to the top of a ski jump and see what waits below. It really is an amazing story of courage, and I hope it’s the last one that comes out of the 1988 Olympics.
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