“A tremendously fun and heartwarming picture”

by Steve Pulaski

For as simplistically structured and utterly predictable as Eddie the Eagle is, it’s only more amazing that it winds up being such a triumph of a film. A major-minor film, if you will; one that will be casually embraced or dismissed by critics (much like its titular hero) but truly loved and appreciated by audiences, especially audiences who love watching the underdog come out on top. While part of my unspoken duty as a film critic is to demand more from a film, to do so with Eddie the Eagle, a film that plays it safe and keeps everything entertaining thanks to its committed cast and the respectful treatment of its subject, seems foolish given on how well it stands on its own two-feet.

The film revolves around Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a young British man who, from a very tender age, aspired to become an Olympian, despite his parents’ lack of money and his father’s modest expectations for his son to become a plasterer like himself. Eddie’s determination always found a way to either get him hurt or in trouble, but he never cared to stop, not even after his tenth pair of glasses or the increasing number of bruises on his body.

Eddie’s incorruptible determination is predicated upon one end goal; proving people wrong by earning a spot in the skijumping competition in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Eddie’s quirky attitude, lack of coordination, and leg braces make him the perfect underdog candidate, and with little guidance, plus a late start in the sport compared to his competitors, he enlists in the help of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a once-promising skijumper under the coach of the renowned Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken) turned bitter, pompous alcoholic. Peary agrees to help coach Eddie in landing, so he doesn’t make a complete fool out of himself around the more seasoned jumpers.

It doesn’t take long for Eddie’s promise to be communicated to Peary in the boldest way. Through all his quirks and eccentricities, Eddie is a lot of things, but not a quitter, even when Olympic officials laugh in his face, competitors sneer and mock him, and even Peary himself demeans him. Almost everything Eddie says to people results in a jab back in his direction, and instead of fighting back, let alone instigating or being bitter, Eddie persists on towards his goal. “I love jumping,” he states at one press conference, “nearly as much as I love proving people wrong.”

Screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton are in such an easy position to turn Eddie the Eagle into, what I call, an “anti-character study,” similar to the Adam Sandler films of the 1990’s, where we take a buffoon character and just pick on him for the entire course of the film. Macaulay and Kelton realize they are operating on a field of landmines for this character in terms of making him the butt of every joke, but through a sensitive lens, they portray a sweet, sincere hero, who gets poked and prodded frequently, but never at the expense of cheap laughs. The respect they give Edwards is quite remarkable and mature, given the direction that would’ve easily sold more tickets.

Eddie the Eagle
Directed by
Dexter Fletcher
Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Tom Costello Jr.
Release Date
26 February 2016
Steve’s Grade: B+

However, audience members who choose to go to the theater to see this film after the unusually high amounts of drudgery they’ve been subjected to the past two months will be gifted with a tremendously fun and heartwarming picture with two strong performances at its core. Even though Jackman’s role of the belligerent, self-indulgent hulk is one he can sleepwalk, he still does a strong job at conveying the character without an unlikable edge – as if Macaulay and Kelton tried so hard to make the titular character a sympathetic one that they couldn’t risk corrupting the tone by making Peary completely unlikable. But, as one can predict, the star here is Egerton, who is nearly unrecognizable compared to his surly but high-octane performance in Kingsman: The Secret Service, which was directed by Eddie the Eagle‘s executive producer Matthew Vaughn, in addition to coming with the stamp of Vaughn’s production company, “Marv.” Vaughn’s production company has, yet again, proved itself by giving us a wholesome picture, filled with cleanly edited and shot scenes that carry a decidedly retrograde vibe and an aesthetic warmness that makes for a visually appealing film (and one of the best uses of Van Halen’s “Jump” ever committed to film).

Here, Egerton gives a sensitive performance of an instantly likable character who has been doubted before he was ever given a chance to prove himself, and through a tender lens, director Dexter Fletcher and company prove that is something that we all want; to be taken seriously and to be, at the very least, respected. By giving us a character who is treated with everything but respect for most of his life, we’re reminded that most of us simply want a shot at glory before we can be criticized. “Eddie the Eagle,” once more, plays similar tunes, but it’s so well-versed and impressive with the familiar that it’s also a cogent reminder that one doesn’t need to break boundaries to tell a story that’s important; all it needs is a different thematic direction and a couple of strong performances.