Eddie the Eagle and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Dexter Fletcher
Despite some films that are clearly going to be awful coming through the pipeline soon (*cough* Gods of Egypt *cough* Brothers Grimsby *cough*), I think it’s safe to say that the New Year Doldrums are coming to end as we’ve been getting some pretty sold films lately like The Witch and Race. Will Eddie the Eagle, a feel good comedy about an unlikely athlete, be yet another sign that the dark times are over, or the last gasp of awfulness before such dreck is anesthetized from the local multiplexes? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) whose one goal in life is to be an Olympic athlete and to one day participate in the games as a representative of Great Britain. He doesn’t really care for any sport in particular (and has very little skill in most of them) but he eventually finds that skiing agrees with him for the most part and hopes to qualify for the 88 Winter Games in Calgary. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to be up to snuff for any of the skiing events and is about to give up when he realizes that Great Britain hasn’t had an official Ski Jumper participate in the games for over fifty years which means that he doesn’t have to compete against anyone else to qualify! True, he’s never jumped in his life, but he’s got about a year until the next games and is determined to get there no matter the cost. He sets up camp in Germany where there’s an official training facility that he can practice at, yet the training seems to be slow going on his own. Fortunately, IT JUST SO HAPPENS that a former American ski jumper named Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) is the unassuming and alcoholic groundskeeper (I guess that’s what you’d call him) of the facility and, after some badgering from Eddie, eventually decides to help him get just good enough to not kill himself at the games. Will Eddie be able to live out his dream to be an Olympic athlete in a sport he barely understands? Will Bronson find redemption in helping this guy become a proper ski jumper? Who wants to bet the true story wasn’t NEARLY as whimsical as they portray it here?
This movie doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, or at the very least is trying to be something it shouldn’t. I know other people have made the comparisons between this and Cool Runnings, which is quite apt, but this one falls so much shorter than that film which is hardly a classic in its own right (other than for nostalgic reasons). It’s not without its strengths and highlights, but it almost feels cynical in its insistence on absolute sincerity to the point that it’s almost like a sports parody or a movie you’d see playing in the background of another movie. I don’t doubt that the real life story was at least somewhat similar to what we see on screen, but the way the movie decided to tell it turns it into Pablum.
The best place to start will probably be with its comparisons to Cool Runnings which the movie itself invites due to Eddie’s story coinciding with the Jamaican Bobsled team’s (having both taken place at the 88 Olympics) and there being a direct reference to them towards the end. What makes Cool Runnings work as well as it does is the simplistic yet enjoyable hero’s journey that the four bobsledders and their coach go through in order to turn their outlandish dream into a reality. Despite it being a Disney caricature of the events in question, it still managed to make sense within the exaggerated world it was crafting. Sure the locations were practically Epcot exhibits and there were no shortage of hijinks, but none of that diminished the journey these characters went through to get to the Olympics and the internal logic (once established) was pretty sound overall. So why does this movie fail where Cool Runnings succeeded? What it comes down to is that Eddie’s story is not the one they are trying DESPERATELY to sell you on in this movie, and the disconnect is absolutely jarring. The movie wants to be about the Average Joe living out their dreams despite all the odds, but that’s not who Eddie Edwards was. He was a professional skier for many years and damn sure worked hard at it considering how many awards we see he’s won, yet every scene he’s in the guy is portrayed like a nigh-incompetent boob who doesn’t know anything about what he’s getting himself into. Even though he’s switching to ski jumping, he’s still spent a lot of time with people on the slopes, so the fact that he can’t talk to anyone or gets easily spooked by alpha-male douche nozzles feels disingenuous.
Eddie as a character is also not that complex and has a very shallow outlook on life. His goal is to be in the Olympics. Not to do well in the Olympics. Not to play a sport so well that he deserves to be in the Olympics. He just wants to be there for the glory; like any given person who enters a reality television show. I guess he liked skiing if he was dedicated enough to the sport to practice for a decade, but he really doesn’t seem to have any appreciation or real understanding of ski jumping (despite his weak protestations otherwise) which is such an odd characteristic to give the guy, especially in a movie that it trying this hard to sell his tale as inspirational and uplifting. He just comes across like a fame seeker more than anything else and would’ve set himself on fire if it was an Olympic event. The movie sort of touches on this, but since they have to follow the real life story and aren’t all that interested in making this anything but fluff, that notion gets tossed to the wayside by the end.
What are we supposed to gleam from Eddie’s story in this? If you’re really determined, then you can exploit a loop hole and get into something you’re clearly not ready for? I get that the guy worked his ass off for that one year to squeak his way into the Olympics, but he hardly seems to care about the sport other than it being his ticket there, and every goal he sets is just to do the bare minimum. It’s a weird dichotomy here where the movie wants to us to root for the guy, but he really doesn’t deserve it considering how much harder everyone else had to train to make it to the Olympics fairly. This is a guy who watched Rocky one too many time or any sort of sports movie and thinks that you can just montage your way to the top. It really doesn’t work like that and everyone else competing in those games knows that as they’ve spent years and probably decades going to the gym every day and getting hurt over and over again to perfect their craft. Eddie Edwards did this sport for one year and basically snuck his way in, yet we’re supposed to think he’s being unfairly put upon when he’s actually getting far more than what he ultimately deserved.
There are a couple more issues I had with the movie other than the odd premise of it (or at least the odd framing of the story). There’s some pretty dodgy CG for the crashes which I guess makes sense as we don’t ACTUALLY want people to get killed making this, and there’s a synth piano on the score that makes any music that isn’t pre-existing music sound ridiculous, though that may be intentional with a movie this sappy. Honestly, if the movie had been exactly the same but it was about someone I felt deserved the overly sentimental tone and cinematography (perhaps a remake of Cool Runnings) then this would be a very solid picture with only some minor technical shortcomings. Hell, I haven’t even gotten a chance to talk about the acting which overall is strong. I’m not really a fan of how over the top Taron Egerton played the role, but then for the movie he was he did fine with the role, and Christopher Walken shows up for only two or three scenes as Hugh Jackman’s former coach, but he’s Christopher Walken which means he can do whatever the hell he wants and I’ll be sure to love him. The REAL star here is Hugh Jackman who has proven once again that he can be in anything from Academy Award winning features to the lowest dreck possible (*cough* Pan *cough*) and manage to the best damn thing about it. Sure he’s one of those pretty alcoholics who manages to still have a six pack and flawless skin despite subsisting on a liquid diet, but he brings some wit and cynicism that the movie was desperately needing to keep this from becoming an outright farce.
There’s a moment in here where he’s already downed a bottle of jack, straps on some skis wearing nothing but a short sleeve shirt, and goes down a seventy meter slope leaving only a cigarette but at the starting gate. Not only is that a badass and endearing moment for the character, but it’s also has some fantastic (if not entirely convincing) cinematography that really gets across the intensity of the sport and the dizzying high you would get from the adrenaline rush. There are moments throughout like that where everything is firing on all cylinders and you understand what this movie is trying to be (it has a FANTASTIC montage set to Hall and Oates’s You Make My Dreams Come True), but these are the exception rather than the rule for this film which is a shame considering how mismatched Eddie’s story is to this kind of film.
Is this guy’s story interesting enough to make a movie out of? Absolutely. Should it be a cheesy and shallow underdog story? Probably not. Hell, something more like Foxcatcher would be appropriate than this overly sentimental mess we’ve got here, but then again you may not have the same problems I did with the character and their motivations. If that wasn’t an issue for me, I’d be telling you to go see this movie right now as it’s a feel good and cheesy fun movie. Unfortunately, I DO have those issues and while I think this movie has merit, it’s doesn’t come together all that well which means it may be best to wait for a home release to see if it’s up your alley rather than spending the money at a theater. Either way, you should probably go ahead and watch Cool Runnings again. Not to compare it to this movie or because it’s any better; just because it’s Cool Runnings. Why WOULDN’T you go ahead and watch Cool Runnings again!?
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