It turns out 1988 was the year for oddballs at the Winter Olympics, oddballs whose stories made pretty decent Hollywood movies. That was the year of the unheard-of Jamaican bobsled team, whose tale would become the memorable Disney comedy, “Cool Runnings”. And on the other side of the snowy Calgary was Michael “Eddie” Edwards, who set out to be Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper. Eddie’s underdog story, told in the vintage comedy “Eddie the Eagle”, is warm enough to melt even the chilliest heart.
Just don’t expect the film to veer off the course these stories generally go. Where it is at least somewhat surprising is in the depth it immerses itself in a retro ’80s style, complete with a synth-heavy score that sounds like it was taken from episodes of “Quantum Leap”. In the works for some time, the film didn’t really come together until Matthew Vaughn put his muscle behind it, luring in his frequent collaborator Dexter Fletcher to direct, and his “Kingsman: The Secret Service” star Taron Egerton to play a much more handsome version of Eddie. Vaughn, emptying out his franchise flick Rolodex, even snagged Wolverine himself, Hugh Jackman, (remember Vaughn directed him in “X-Men: First Class”) for a role that, shockingly, isn’t that of the hero. But at least it doesn’t require him to pop any claws.
Sporting a porn ‘stache, thick-rimmed glasses, and the vaguest hint of a waddle, Egerton plays Eddie, who grew up being told he’ll never be an athlete. Not just because he was incredibly awkward, but because of a physical condition that gave him weak knees. Eddie plowed ahead with his dream to be an Olympian, though, with the encouragement of his mother and constant disapproval of his father. After the British Olympic committee axed him from the downhill ski team, Eddie settled on ski jumping instead. With no money and even less experience, Eddie travels to Germany where the best skiers train. It’s there that he meets Bronson Peary (Jackman); a former ski jumping champion turned drunken groundskeeper.
You probably can guess where things go from here. Bronson won’t agree to be Eddie’s trainer since he looks like he should be working construction (a job Eddie’s Dad had set aside for him, actually) not jumping off of 70-foot ramps. But after Eddie shows he’s got the mettle for it, by stupidly attempting jumps that could get him killed, Bronson agrees only long enough to get him into the Olympics. Unfortunately, the stodgy, stuck-up British Olympic committee still stands in Eddie’s way, coming up with stricter rules to try to and keep him out.
“I love ski jumping, almost as much as I love proving people wrong”, Eddie says, and that can-do spirit is so earnestly delivered that it’s easy to smile at. Along with a healthy dose of nostalgia (Bo Derek is a key source of Eddie’s inspiration, for instance), “Eddie the Eagle” is never less than a lighter than air experience. To that end, Eddie’s struggles don’t really seem all that difficult. He faces some ridicule from fellow skiers, but any threat of physical harm mostly comes from Eddie’s own stubbornness. It’s also a bit deflating that Eddie’s story isn’t really about winning gold, it’s about just being good enough to compete. In the most straight-up way possible, Eddie’s just happy to be accepted, which is kind of a low threshold. Even Bronson’s own story of redemption, which involves a serviceable cameo by Christopher Walken as his former coach, feels like it could have been fleshed out more, but perhaps that has to do with Bronson being a fictional creation. It never truly seems as if either man has very far to climb to reach the top.
The real-life Eddie Edwards has said the film is only about 10% accurate and the rest is made-up. That’s fine since “Eddie the Eagle” kind of resembles a fairy tale, anyway, one in which the unlikely hero only needs to stick the landing rather than go the distance.