Eddie the Eagle (2016)

02/28/2016  By  Joseph Wade     No comments

Eddie Edwards is an odd choice for an inspirational sports biopic.

Relatively inexperienced, Edwards ski-jumped his way to the 1988 Winter Olympics almost purely on technicality and convenience. Neither a conventional success story, nor one of grand triumph over adversity, Eddie the Eagle is all about finding the heart and soul of a champion inside of each of us, regardless of skill or background. It’s as broadly formulaic a sports movie as you’re ever likely to find, but it leans into those standard beats and wins you over through sheer force of will and a strong comedic streak.

Eddie Edwards (Taron Edgerton) had one goal in life: To compete in the Olympics. His single-minded quest is hampered from a young age by thick glasses, a leg brace, and no innate talent for sports whatsoever. At 22, Eddie shifts his focus to ski jumping as he learns England has not sent a ski jumper to the Olympics in sixty years. Scrounging up enough money to travel to a training camp in Germany, Eddie meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski jumper who now works as the camp’s alcoholic groundskeeper. Eddie tenaciously convinces Bronson to coach him, and earns his ticket to Calgary by just barely meeting the requirements of the British Olympic Association, who desperately want nothing to do with him.

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“Thirty years ago this very night, twelve skiers died at the top of the 90m jump…”

Fictionalized to the point of inventing half the story, Eddie the Eagle places a great emphasis on Eddie’s bond with Bronson, a character completely made up because every sports movie needs a douchebag coach with a heart of gold. Bronson has his own demons to face, naturally, in the person of his former coach Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken, mostly appearing on the cover of a book). This has little real bearing on the plot, but it gives Eddie an interesting foil, as Bronson’s backstory is one of squandered talent. Bronson’s journey mostly exists as a reality check for Eddie. His constant appeals to Eddie’s sensible side fall on deaf ears as Eddie stubbornly mounts his skis and pushes forward.

Bronson pleads with Eddie to keep training, and it’s hard not to wonder how much further he’d have gone had he taken his (fictional) coach’s advice. In real life, the Olympic committee established new qualifying regulations after 1988, preventing Eddie from ever qualifying again despite multiple attempts. Had he waited and taken his shot after a few more years of training, who knows how things might have worked out? Maybe there would’ve been no movie.

Eddie the Eagle is not a story about athletic perfection or winning gold medals. It’s about following your dreams as far as you possibly can. As gawky and pigheaded as he often is, Eddie has no delusions about his talents as an athlete. All he really wants is the chance to compete. When he finally makes it to the Calgary Olympics, decked out in his gaudy blue jumpsuit, Eddie is simply thrilled to be there. Landing his first jump, Eddie is so excited becoming the new record holder for British ski jumping that he doesn’t even care about coming in last place. His utter delight with himself wins over the crowd. That’s what made him an overnight sensation; that’s the whole reason this movie even exists.

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No jokes here. The ski jumping photography is exhilarating.

After playing the dashing hoodlum-turned-secret agent in last year’s Kingsman, it’s kind of remarkable to see Taron Edgerton don a pair of oversized glasses and a wispy mustache and disappear into the role of Eddie Edwards. Squinting behind his glasses and constantly insisting on milk as his drink of choice, Edgerton makes Eddie a lovable kind of dork. Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman brings all the half-drunken swagger of his Wolverine persona to his portrayal of Bronson, and the way the two play off each other is like the birth of a buddy cop team too beautiful for this Earth.

One of the strangest and most memorable scenes in the film finds Bronson explaining to Eddie how to relax himself during a jump. He says it’s just like having sex with your favorite movie star; Bo Derek, in Eddie’s case. This leads to a solid minute of Hugh Jackman miming sex moves and noises right into the camera, building up to a huge climax as his hypothetical ski jumper leaps into the air. It’s a hilarious moment that gets a big callback later in the film as Eddie takes his final jump. The movie isn’t always this bawdy, though, as the rest is tame enough to fit right alongside Disney’s Cool Runnings (another comedy about unlikely stars of the 1988 Olympics).

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BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO DEREK!

And just like Cool Runnings, Eddie the Eagle works best as a stirring celebration of the drive to compete over the need to win. Not everyone can be a champion athlete, but everyone deserves the chance to at least try. Director Dexter Fletcher has taken the unlikely story of Eddie Edwards and given it the all-star treatment, turning it into exactly the kind of sports movie people love to revisit. The plucky unassuming athlete, the hard-nosed coach, the bouncy training montage set to Hall & Oates, the inevitable setback from the establishment… You’ve seen that movie a hundred times, but when they’re as well-crafted as Eddie the Eagle, we’ll gladly see them a hundred more.

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Taron Edgerton
Historical Accuracy
Simulated Ski-Jumping
Sports Movie Tropes
Hugh Jackman's O-Face

About Joseph Wade

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Joseph Wade is secretly three bulldogs in a trenchcoat. Their favorite movie is Turner & Hooch.

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