REVIEW: Eddie the Eagle

5 03 2016

The inspirational sports movie has certainly seen better days, as most now hew to the same audience-tested formula to equate athletic victory with a larger triumph over adversity. Either screenwriters penning or executives green-lighting these movies seem to regard this widely accepted set of conventions like the recipe for Coca-Cola, as if only one specific combination of ingredients can bottle up happiness.

Films like Dexter Fletcher’s “Eddie the Eagle,” however, prove otherwise. While everything about the actual story might indicate it perfectly fitting the standard mold, the film functions more like a loving nod to the classics rather than a dutiful servant to their legacy. Through protagonist Eddie, the ideals of effort and self-worth receive top billing over achievement and self-satisfaction.  If it has to send a message, at least Fletcher goes for one somewhat different than the norm.

These principles are not just tacked on at the end or through a big motivation speech, either. They begin at the start of “Eddie the Eagle,” when the eponymous character declares he will go to the Olympics and screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton never declare the goal out of reach. Despite some difficulties with his knees as a youngster in working class England, they never milk his physical challenges for easy sympathy. In fact, they get Eddie all grown up by the end of the opening credits!

From there, the film maintains Eddie’s cock-eyed optimism as he sets his sights on the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. The question is never if but how, and he find the answer in the sneaky backdoor of ski jumping. Since the U.K. has not sent anyone for the sport in decades, all Eddie (Taron Egerton) needs to do is complete a jump in sanctioned competition to qualify. His quest for bottom of the barrel results recalls the fun of “Silver Linings Playbook” where Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s characters dance for literally mediocre marks from the judges.

But more than anything, it recalls “Million Dollar Baby” with its relationship of an eager mentee paired with a jaded coach, a role assumed here by Hugh Jackman. His Bronson Peary, a disgraced former American Olympian, reluctantly helps Eddie reach the lowest common denominator. With a Vangelis-style score behind it, “Eddie the Eagle” takes flight as our jumping friend triumphs over the elite British Olympians who scorned his lack of Oxbridge pedigree. The coke-bottle classes Eddie sports magnify wonder in Egerton’s doe eyes, allowing us a window into the untarnished goodness of his soul. For the hundred or so minute runtime, the film makes a convincing case for the eternal endurance of this endearing, indomitable spirit. B+3stars

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