The sports film is a very popular genre, and why shouldn’t it be? People love feel-good movies, and there is little in this world that is more feel good than watching the little guy overcome all obstacles and succeed where everyone though he would fail.
On the other hand, the problem with the sports film is that we all know their beats by heart. For a sports movie to set itself a part, it has to do something different—or better—than the movies which have preceded it. The Taron Egerton-Hugh Jackman starrer, “Eddie the Eagle,” very nearly gets there.
The biggest thing this tale of British ski jumper Michael “Eddie” Edwards making it to the ’88 Winter Olympics has going for it is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It seems to sense that even if the tale is based on a true story, it easily works into every expected moment from repeated early failures through the training montage to general improvement, a final major obstacle, and then success. What the Dexter Fletcher directed movie (with a screenplay from Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton) is able to do is wink at the audience, playing some of these expected moments for laughs.
What it is not able to do, perhaps because of this very self-awareness and lighthearted tone, is to ever raise the stakes to the point where any of it feels remotely important. Worse yet, there’s actually a very solid argument to be made that Edwards didn’t deserve to be in the Olympics. “Eddie the Eagle” offers up an incredibly weak villain in their presentation of the British committee that attempts to keep Edwards out of the games, and one can’t help feel but that the villain is portrayed as a week one very much because the committee may have been correct.
Let me stop for a minute here to give you the basic synopsis – little Eddie Edwards wants to be an Olympian, and as he gets older his dream continues unabated. Realizing he’ll never be good enough to make a Summer Olympics team, he sets his sites on the Winter Games. Edwards learns to ski, allegedly well but the film offers no concrete evidence of this. He is then denied a spot on the ski team because he can’t be sold to sponsors (Edwards is something of a goofball). Still wanting to make the games, Edwards realizes that the Brits haven’t had a ski jumper in decades, nor have they updated their rules about what it takes to make the team, so he learns to jump… poorly. Denied entry still, he learns to jump slightly less poorly and goes to Calgary.
This is where the film has problems. Yes, the committee denies Edwards’ a spot on the Olympic team despite his technically meeting the requirements, but Edwards at that moment isn’t actually a good jumper. Beyond that, there is nothing in the film to indicate that he ever becomes a good jumper, just someone who can land without breaking a bone. It is like watching the “Bad News Bears” if they never figured out how to win, or “Rocky” if Apollo’s people had been right and the Italian Stallion was just a bum whom Apollo would have to carry for a few rounds before, mercifully, knocking him unconscious.
I don’t mean to take away from Edwards’ accomplishment at being able to ski jump, I would undoubtedly break many bones in any such attempt. There is, however, a difference between landing and being a world class athlete, and the film makes no bones about the fact that Edwards was never the latter. In the real world (and not portrayed in the film), when the International Olympic Committee strengthened all the rules about who could qualify to participate (as a direct result of Edwards), Edwards failed to make the cut every time he tried following the rule change.
“Eddie the Eagle” ignores all of these things. It is a movie which celebrates Eddie’s perseverance, and not just at attempting to ski jump, but also in finding a loophole which would allow him to compete. And the fact that, at least as the film itself sees it, Edwards wasn’t really good enough to be in the Olympics is a disappointment.
But, as I said, it almost all works. And it almost all works due to the film’s knowing winks at its own rote following of the genre, triumphant music, training montage, each and every audience member’s dreaming that maybe they too, one day, could achieve an incredible dream like making it to the Olympics, and—this is the big one—because Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman are stupendously great in the film.
Egerton and Jackman both have an incredible amount of charisma, all of which is on display here. One feels for Egerton’s Edwards and Jackman’s Bronson Peary (Edwards coach, who threw his own career away). The two men have great chemistry and are a joy to watch opposite one another in scene after scene. They help elevate this sports movie about an absolutely less than stellar athlete into something definitely worth seeing.
As feel good as “Eddie the Eagle” is on the surface, spending any amount of time truly considering what happens in the movie and why only leads to disappointment. But what I wouldn’t give to see a similar story worthy of the performances.
photo credit: 20th Century Fox