The tape’s hard enough to watch. Go hunting for Eddie Edwards, the “Eagle,” online, and you’ll find video with titles like, “Eddie Edwards Worst Ski Jump Ever…” Eddie didn’t fly so much as he fell. He finished dead last in ski-jumping at the winter games in Calgary, but spectators were taken aback by his enthusiasm for his own low bar, and arm-flapping gestures. Were folks laughing at Eddie? Or with him? Hard to say. Edwards didn’t look like an athlete. More like a creepy math teacher in aviator glasses. Eddie became a punchline, a technicality, a trivia answer; hardly a long-shot underdog story.
Simply put, it’s strange that Eddie the Eagle is now arriving on screens as a full-on family sports affair, but a formulaic movie about ski jumping was inevitable at some point. Maybe every sport was already taken.
Eddie, well, apologies, but he’s seriously for the birds. As a young English lad, his broken leg and big glasses stigmatize the dreamer. A penniless son of a plasterer in Cheltenham, Eddie wants to compete in the Olympics. Eddie doesn’t care about work or school, or at least that part of his real life doesn’t appear in this film. Eddie could be a dart thrower or shuffle boarder or curler, as long as some event puts the boy near the film’s near-fetishized five rings of ultimate sporting.
Eddie grows up disqualifying himself from pole-vaulting, javelin throwing, and that thing with the ball on the end of a rope. Eventually, Eddie turns his focus to skiing. Taron Egerton (last year’s Kingsman) plays the blinky-eyed hopeful in his ‘20s with obnoxious persistence. After getting rejected from downhill racing, Eddie, on a whim, in one of those magical movie moments where the lead looks longingly at a well-placed poster, decides to take up ski-jumping. No Englishman does this, so Eddie hopes to get in by meeting minimum requirements. Eddie learns the hard way.
While breaking his bones in Germany, Eddie meets the sauced and surly Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman, who can do gruff confidence, no trouble). Peary was a former Olympian, who’s now fully downhill. Eddie and Bronson forge a strange relationship, and knowing Edwards or not, the clichés are easier to see than the side of a snowy mountain.
Eddie’s Mom quietly supports him. Dad not so much. Eddie won’t quit despite everyone telling him to do so. Eddie encounters English snobs, and Scandanavian baddies. He lives off the kindness of a sexually enlightened, pacifist German bartender. Training and travelling montages. Flagrant use of Hall and Oates, and the most on-the-nose use of Van Halen’s “Jump” ever committed to celluloid. Big competitions. Lessons learned. Handshakes and heavy-handed melodrama. Post-scripts and photos of the real life people. Although, the ‘80s-centric score resembles the geek lovechild of Vangelis and Rocky IV’s Vince DiCola. Casio bass, synth sounds, and rocking guitars? Now that’s some funny silly padding on a worn exercise in the sporting genre. Eddie the Eagle’s stock but not entirely hack. Eddie Edwards about deserves this grade of movie to be based on him.
Eddie the Eagle is propped up on its two leads. One’s gold, the other fool’s gold. Egerton gives something resembling caricature. Here, Eddie’s athletic myopia suggests a real person as psychologically limited, and worse, the butt of many jokes. Perhaps it’s the scripting, but Eddie never rises above a guy with a cloud bubble with skis inside it. He’s into milk and avoids women nervously. Every single scene he grimaces or pouts on his way to “glory.” Jackman, on the other hand, is both Eddie and the film’s saving grace. He taunts and teaches Eddie and has the natural charisma of a God-given athlete. When Jackman goes downhill with a side-mouthed smoke jumping like a jet into the night to show Eddie what skiing takes, Jackman’s unbelievable, an industrial-strength star.
Within Eddie the Eagle’s core is a conventional, but acceptable message: Tis a far better thing to compete than it is to solely win. Eddie the Eagle trips plenty, but Eddie, insufferable as he may be, represents the people that in spite of failure being visible at the bottom of a 90-meter ski drop, still take that leap.