For obvious reasons, his story is better known in the United Kingdom than America, but there’s a chance you might remember it. Think back to the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Then think of the little English ski-jumper who could… sorta.
Eddie Edwards, dubbed Eddie the Eagle by the press, finished last in both the 70m and 90m ski-jumping events, but he still set a record. At the time, he was officially the best ski jumper in Gt. Britain having set the British record of 73.5 m in one of the jumps. And the media loved him, even if a few of the professionals around him didn’t. And that’s Eddie’s story. It’s Rudy and Hoosiers on the ski slopes, though the winning part is more of a personal issue. But he was a winner, all the same.
When we first meet young Eddie, it’s 1973 and the boy is holding his breath under the bath water while timing himself. His stopwatch reads 58 seconds, and little Eddie, thrilled to have topped his best, decides he needs to go the Olympics for underwater breath holding. His parents point out that it might not actually be an official Olympic event. But that doesn’t stop Eddie’s desire. The boy is so obsessed with the Olympics that when his mother clears the dining table, she finds he’s stained the table cloth with the circles from his tea mug; they form the famous five circles representing the games.
Now grown and in his twenties, Eddie (Taron Egerton, virtually unrecognizable from his lead in Kingsman: The Secret Service) has never lost his dream of being an Olympian. It’s just that he’s not particularly good at any of the events. “You are not an athlete!” his exasperated dad (Keith Allen) insists, preferring that his son would stop all of this malarkey and knuckle down to working on the local building site as a plasterer, just like his father.
“Frankly, Eddie, you will never be Olympic material,” he’s later told by an official Olympic rep, but Eddie’s not listening. Inspired to be a ski-jumper for no other reason other than he thinks he can do it, Eddie takes up the skis and heads for Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany to practice on the slopes. “You name me one British ski-jumper,” his dad demands as Eddie readies to leave for the continent. “Me!” replies the bespectacled and woefully unprepared though determined Eddie.
The film invents a fictional coach. Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, a one-time American ski-jumper who now drives a snowplow by the slopes in Germany accompanied by a flask from which he continually swigs. At first, Peary has no time for Eddie. Before a practice jump, when Eddie asks Peary for any professional tips, the reluctant coach with a few back issues of his own replies, “Give up. That’s for free.”
Director Dexter Fletcher, best known as an actor from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Kick-Ass, assembles his film as a comic, widescreen fairy tale with an edge, wisely avoiding the temptation of going too broad – the situation is comically broad enough without overdoing it with the performances – and has produced a genuine crowd-pleaser that pleasantly entertains in the same way the real Eddie entertained the press. The film’s style is direct and uncomplicated, an approach Fletcher used in two previous directorial features that never crossed Stateside; 2011’s Wild Bill and 2013’s Sunshine on Leith. He also has fun with the music. While Eddie trains, he does it to the strains of Hall and Oates and You Make My Dreams (Come True) while Van Halen’s Jump accompanies Eddie on the slopes as he does exactly that. While being no ground-breaker the film is certainly warm-hearted fun.
Whether his fellow team members as well as some of the official Olympic reps acted as snotty and as mean-spirited to Eddie as they do here is difficult to say. Knowing how loose this adaptation of the young man’s story tends to be, you may wonder if some of the tricks and obstacles played to either stop him or make him appear stupid before a crowd actually happened, but from a story-telling perspective, they’re conflicts to overcome, making his achievements of not falling down all the more satisfying, particularly when those who made fun are forced to acknowledge that in the end, the kid did ok.
While Eddie’s story of losing the jumps but winning the audience is based on real events, the film fictionalizes much in order to tell the tale. Ironically, if they’d filmed Eddie’s full story, you might have had trouble accepting everything that happened to him once his instant media created celebrity status kicked in. True life can be wackier than a tall tale. It’s not in the film, but during the games, Eddie appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, plus several other TV appearances. For whatever reason, he recorded a bizarre pop song in Finnish though he doesn’t speak the language, and he pitched insurance as a TV advertising spokesperson. He also competed on celebrity gymnastic games and appeared on a famous BBC TV quiz show called Eggheads, viewed nightly. He lost.
MPAA rating: PG-13 Length: 105 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)