For the number of inspirational, based-on-a-true-story sports films there are in existence – it seems like we get at least one new one every year – most seem to believe in either being serious, or being serious with lightly funny moments. It’s appropriate, then, that Eddie the Eagle twists the formula a bit in the way producer Matthew Vaughn tweaked superhero and spy films with his directorial efforts Kick-Ass and Kingsman: The Secret Service, to similar success.
For Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), his dream in life is to become an Olympian. He put all of his energy as a kid into practicing, whether it was pole-vaulting, holding his breath, or any number of other activities. Unfortunately, poor eyesight, bad knees and a lack of natural athletic ability held him back. He finally comes close after shifting focus to the Winter Olympics, and nearly places as a downhill skier. Key word: nearly. But Eddie finds a loophole: with Britain not sending a ski jumper, he only has to jump a particular distance to qualify as Britain’s ski jumper at the 1988 Winter Olympics.
Eddie’s journey, though, goes beyond just landing the right distance. Eddie faces obstacles all around him. The British Olympic Association shuns him for not coming from the “right” places. The other ski jumpers at the place he eventually trains ignore him, too. Even his own father refuses to encourage him, tired of his wife’s insistence on supporting their son’s dream. And yet, Eddie remains incredibly optimistic.
It helps that he has former Olympian Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) as his trainer. Peary, who was once a promising member of coach Warren Sharp’s (Christopher Walken) US Olympic ski jumping team, got the boot because he lacked the focus and discipline to be better. Now he handles maintenance at Eddie’s training facility, frequently drinking from the flask he refers to as his jacket (in lieu of an actual jacket). With little in common beyond a shared love for ski jumping, Eddie and Peary are able to create a bond that pushes both forward.
After breaking out with Kingsman last year, it’s good to see Egerton shine in a film that’s completely his. His take on Eddie is certainly hammed up, but it works in the context of this film, which is about a man who was very enthusiastic in front of the whole world. He also has great chemistry with Jackman, and the two play off of each other so well, it’s slightly disheartening during the brief times they aren’t together once they meet.
The film also wisely approaches its tone, mixing the comedy that comes from Eddie’s energy with bursts of intensity that reflect the dangerous nature of ski jumping. The synth-heavy 80s score captures the era in a way most films of this type fail to do, and helps to keep the mood light as well. But then, the film shows a brutal crash, or a ramp that, even from the ground, looks frightening. And while director Dexter Fletcher captures the jumps effectively, he’s helped by a script that calls attention to what Eddie needs to do. Specifically, after Eddie spends some time trying to learn from watching others, he’s given instructions from Peary that are both incredibly informative and undeniably silly. From that scene on, though, it’s a lot easier to understand what exactly Eddie needs to do in order to not only succeed, but stay as physically safe as possible.
I’m honestly not sure how much of Eddie the Eagle is factual, beyond Egerton being much more…physically filled out than the real Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. But for whatever creative licenses the film takes with the story, the result is as positive and inspirational as one could want. This isn’t the story of an underdog who shocks everyone by becoming a champion. Eddie’s ultimate goal isn’t to win: it’s to be able to race in the first place. It’s an unusual end goal for this type of film, but it’s in many ways more inspiring.