Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

EDDIE THE EAGLE (Dexter Fletcher, 2016)

Since he was a boy with a brace on his leg, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has dreamed of being an Olympic athlete, but his abilities don’t appear to match his aspirations. In EDDIE THE EAGLE the determined young man hopes to earn a spot on Great Britain’s 1988 Olympic downhill skiing team but fails. The setback doesn’t stop him from pursuing his goal, though. Eddie decides to become a ski jumper because his country hasn’t produced one in more than fifty years. More importantly, he doesn’t have to be great to qualify either. Sticking the landing on a jump from the 70m platform should be sufficient.

Eddie leaves his working class English neighborhood to train in Germany. What he lacks in ski jumping experience and knowledge, he attempts to make up for in enthusiasm. The best ski jumpers often start in early childhood, so observers scoff at the 22-year-old’s efforts with the expectation he’ll break some bones, if not kill himself. Onetime elite United States ski jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) maintains the slopes and unsuccessfully tries to discourage Eddie. Bronson is now an alcoholic and a crank, but he agrees to become Eddie’s coach because of his protege’s perseverance and the British Olympic Association’s gambit to keep Eddie off the team. After Eddie meets the low bar for qualification, British officials change the rules to a competitive standard they don’t expect him to reach.

Based on a true story, EDDIE THE EAGLE takes a slightly different tack on the underdog sports movie. Typically the underestimated athlete or team in such films rallies to be in a position to win a championship, even if they fall short. Eddie isn’t competing for a gold medal, or even a bronze, but against himself and the presumptions of those who look upon his ambition with disdain. Finishing in last place is acceptable to him as long as he gets the opportunity to participate in the Olympics.

EDDIE THE EAGLE would be less inspirational without the pushback the ski jumper faced. How uplifting would the story be if getting to the Winter Olympics merely required exploiting a loophole? In a weird way the film undersells his achievement, depicting him as a pie in the sky wisher when he still had to do the hard and dangerous training. It’s not like any weekend warrior could try out a few jumps and be Eddie’s equal. The Eddie-eye view of him careening down the slope does a good job of conveying the speed, height, distance, and peril involved in the sport.

In a one hundred eighty degree turn from the cocky, underachieving lad turned spy he played in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, Egerton makes a sympathetic hero out of this optimistic, teetotaling nerd. With his glasses perpetually sliding down his nose, Egerton overplays Eddie’s naïveté somewhat. One could be excused for thinking Eddie is five to ten years younger than the character actually is. That simplicity is in keeping with the upbeat tone, primary colors, and ebullient synth score director Dexter Fletcher employs. There’s nothing particularly complex about EDDIE THE EAGLE, and the screenplay’s fictions, like the invention of the drunkard coach redeemed by his pupil, lean on clichés. Nevertheless, EDDIE THE EAGLE brims with the joy in pursuing a hard-won dream even if it looks like failure to bystanders.

Grade: B

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