Stars: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Tim McInnerny, Rune Temte, Edvin Endre, Jo Hartley, Daniel Westwood, Tony Paul West, Ania Sowinski, Daniel Ings, Anastasia Harrold | Written by Sean Macaulay, Simon Kelton | Directed by Dexter Fletcher
A comedy-drama based on the true story of the plucky underdog defying expectations at the 1988 Winter Olympics under the tutelage of a cranky yet caring American coach who’s turned their back on the sport that made them a star? Yep, Cool Runnings is a classic, no doubt about it ,and it can now finally have an Calgary ’88 double bill with Eddie the Eagle, which tells the story of an even more unlikely athletic hero.
I didn’t know a lot about Eddie the Eagle, other than that he was a ski jumper. As I understand it, this biopic runs a little fast and loose with the facts and the end result is about as close to pure and undistilled underdog sports drama as it gets. We’re presented with a young Eddie, who despite his leg braces, poor eyesight and almost total lack of any natural sporting ability whatsoever, is an Olympics geek and wants nothing other than to represent Great Britain in… well, any sport that will have him. He develops as a downhill skier but the nefarious British Olympic Association bar him from the team through political maneuvering. Undeterred, Eddie decides to try his hand at ski jumping – no other living Brit competes in the sport so he becomes the number one by default. Still not wishing to have someone as gawky and daft as Eddie on Team GB, the Association sets the bar ever higher in their efforts to keep him off the plane to Calgary, so Eddie enlists the help of alcoholic former US champion, Bronson Peary to coach him to glory.
Eddie the Eagle was very easy to enjoy – it’s aimed squarely at the heart of the mainstream and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think it will do well in the UK at least for the same reasons that Eddie became so popular in the eighties – there’s something about his character and his story that sits right with the ‘British’ psyche. We like underdogs and have-a-go heroes, we like seeing pompous authority figures being embarrassed and we equally like the opportunity to have a good laugh at a hopeless loser when he gets caught out of his depth. Eddie is the quintessential geek – socially awkward, obsessive and finds immense joy in the niche. Triumph for him isn’t about standing on a podium with a medal, it’s about getting the chance to compete alongside his heroes in the first place. Again, it’s that sense of triumph out of seemingly trivial victories that appeals to the stereotypically British sensibility.
Eddie is played by Taron Egerton (who played Eggsy in Kingsman, continuing his trend for playing characters with avian nicknames), which I imagine was quite challenging. Eddie is a larger than life character to begin with so to play him accurately and sympathetically without stumbling into gurning caricature is impressive. Hugh Jackman has an easier job with Bronson Peary; of course he can do world-weary cynicism in his sleep and you do get the impression he’s coasting a little bit here. Still, there’s only so much he can bring to what is a fairly thinly written character and ultimately Jackman’s innate charisma wins through. The slightness of his character is a problem that’s repeated with pretty much the rest of the cast with everyone apart from Eddie drawn with incredibly broad strokes, to the point where it becomes a little silly. Did the Olympic Association really need to be quite so myopically haughty? Was it really necessary that Eddie’s dad was quite so “give up this skiing nonsense and learn a trade” even when he’s actually at the Olympics? He doesn’t stop being a misery guts until quite literally the last possible minute. It’s this lack of nuance that’s the film’s main weakness and it’s clearly borne out of the desire to keep things simple and feelgood.
Similarly, Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith)’s unfussy direction keeps the story digestible, compact and easy to follow. What it lacks in flair, it makes up for in tone, striking a good balance between the comedic and dramatic elements. It’s also good family viewing, being accessible enough for children to enjoy (with a PG rating) and engaging enough for adults too. It doesn’t shy away from the danger of the sport either, with the jumps looking genuinely intimidating.
Like its protagonist, Eddie the Eagle is not going to be the best thing you’ll ever see and it’s not going to win any awards, but it does its absolute best to entertain as many people as possible in its window of opportunity and it would be churlish to criticise it for that.
Eddie the Eagle is released across the UK on April 1st.