Based on the true story of an unlikely Olympian, Eddie the Eagle is a paint-by-numbers crowd-pleaser about the British ski jumper, Michael Edwards—better known as Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards. It aims to please and nothing more, much like Edwards’ dream to participate in the Olympics but not compete. Edwards has no interest in a medal or doing anything beyond simply being an Olympian. His dream was to pass the trials, don the jacket, and have his picture taken.
This dream, or blind obsession, began at an early age when Edwards manages to hold his breath underwater for nearly a minute. Surely this must be a record worthy of competition, and the determined young man heads out the door and on to Rome, bidding Mum (Jo Hartley) a farewell on the way out. He makes it as far as the bus stop before Dad shows up and convinces Edwards to return home. Neither Mum nor Dad is surprised by their son’s determination; this is not the first time this has happened.
Nor is it the last. Edwards (Taron Egerton) sets his sights on the Olympic track and field team. When his lack of physical prowess and sheer talent fails him, he re-trains his sights on the Winter Olympics, this time as a downhill skier. But he is not good enough, and the stuffed shirts of the English Ski Team kick him out. Edwards switches gears once more, this time to ski jumping.
Ski jumping certainly takes skill and talent, but it also takes a hell of a lot of guts, and that is the one thing Edwards has in spades. Unfortunately, a successful jump (i.e., not crashing) requires technique and skill. Edwards has neither. Lucky for him, a retired ski jumper—now alcoholic snow groomer—Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) just happens to be manning the slopes where Edwards has a job tending-bar and jumping when he can. After a little pestering, Peary agrees to take Edwards under his wing.
And so it goes for the remainder of the film, with every plot point predictable moving to its ultimate and uplifting conclusion at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary. It is a formulaic approach, but it is the approach that director Dexter Fletcher and writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton seem to have in mind. A few setbacks, a couple of learned lessons, an unlikely twist, and a climax worthy of an uplifting pop song. Why not? In real life, Edwards accomplished this feat. Shouldn’t he in movie life too?
Yet, what is most puzzling about Eddie the Eagle is its bizarre commitment to the formula. Particularly the period and trying score from Matthew Margeson. The result isn’t just safe, but it gives the movie a certain time-out-of-mind feeling as if Eddie the Eagle had been sitting on the shelf for 30 years and is just now getting a release.
But no movie is entirely bad, and in Eddie the Eagle, ageless wonder Hugh Jackman is having more fun than he really ought to. Maybe because Egerton’s Edwards is so affected by mannerisms and ticks that Jackman was given free rein to do whatever. And he does. Just watch him as he whips off his aviator sunglasses in the climatic jump. I bet he’s been waiting a long time to work that into a role. And this was certainly his opportunity to give Meg Ryan’s When Harry Met Sally orgasm scene a run for its money. There are a fair amount of committed performances in Eddie the Eagle, but Jackman’s, in particular, is all in.
Eddie the Eagle (2015)
Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Sean Macaulay & Simon Kelton
Produced by: Adam Bohling, Rupert Maconick, David Reid, Valerie Van Galder, Matthew Vaughn
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley
20th Century Fox, Rated PG-13, Running time 105 minutes, Opens February 26, 2016