To describe the story of Eddie the Eagle would almost be a disservice. It is by all means a totally formulaic movie, it follows most of the familiar tropes of the inspirational sports movie. It’s an underdog story about one guy who has always been told to forget about sports, even though he dreams of being an athlete. He pursues his dream with the help of a drunk, has-been coach, and in the story our protagonist’s journey to achieving his goals parallels the redemption arc for the coach. Yes, there is no doubt that this is the kind of movie we have seen many times before. But does that really matter?
The underdog in question is Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton), a young and awkward British man who has always wanted to be in the Olympics. However, he spends most of times helping with his father, Terry’s (Keith Allen) plaster business, at least, when he’s not training himself. He decides the best sport for him is ski-jumping and jumps at the first opportunity to go to Germany to train and compete for a chance at the 1988 Winter Olympics. In Germany, he meets Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski-jumper himself, now a drunk groundskeeper of sorts. The story brings them together as they fight against the system trying to keep Eddie from joining the big game and Bronson tries his best to make a competent athlete out of Eddie.
It’s a quote we hear time and time again, but we never seem to learn from it. “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it,” said by the late, great Roger Ebert. I use that in this context because it is very easy to criticize Eddie the Eagle for following a formula, but does that alone make it bad? I don’t think so, in fact, I think Eddie the Eagle is pretty damn impressive. While we talk about how we’ve seen the formula done so many times before, I honestly can’t recall many inspirational sports movies, or even just sports movies in general, in the past decade, that have actually been great. With the obvious exceptions of Creed and Rush, and if you’re willing to stretch, 42, there aren’t a lot that come to mind. I think we see it as a fault because there are a lot of films like this from the 80s to the 90s that a lot of people today grew up watching, but frankly, many of them don’t hold up. I would say that Eddie the Eagle is easily one of the very best in it’s particular subgenre, not just in the past decade, but in general.
So, if the story doesn’t do a lot of new things, what does it bring to the table? First off, we have at the director’s chair, Dexter Fletcher. The name might not sound familiar, but you have seen him play mostly small roles in films like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Kick-Ass, Topsy-Turvy and many others. He started directing with his 2011 debut, the excellent Wild Bill, which he also wrote, and the wonderful Sunshine on Leith back in 2013. What he and writers, Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, bring to the film is a refreshing sense of energy, lightheartedness and pure, unabashed sincerity. The film is tonally quite playful, somewhat self-aware (there’s even a nice, little Cool Runnings reference if you pay close attention), maybe an influence from producer, Matthew Vaughn, but it’s not smug or self-satisfied; it is 100% free of any cynicism whatsoever. Like the main character, the film is wide-eyed and full of heart, and doesn’t care if you think it’s too cheesy or on-the-nose and it all works despite itself.
Another element that helps make it work is the soundtrack. And I don’t just mean the wonderful uses of lesser known 80s pop, but also the amazing score by Matthew Margeson, which puts a pretty high bar for movie music for the rest of the year. It is the kind of synth-heavy score you would hear from those old, family friendly sports movies you watched as a kid, but it lacks the audience-winking irony you would expect from various other uses of older musical styles today. The use of music in the film is absolutely perfect and completely in tune with the emotional rhythms of the story. Anything you can learn about using music to heighten the emotion of a film, you can learn from Eddie the Eagle.
Then we get to the actors, who all deliver stellar work. Taron Egerton is practically unrecognizable in the role, and I’m glad to say that his star-making turn from Kingsman: The Secret Service was not a fluke. He has a lot of range as a performer and it really shows. In the wrong hands, the attempt at the charming dopiness of Eddie could come off as grating, but Taron brings so much empathy to the character and fully embraces the positivity without coming across like a cartoon. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, actually does feel a bit like a cartoon (there’s a scene where he shows off his ski-jumping skills and he lights up a cigarette as he goes down the ramp, it’s as spectacular as it sounds), but it works in context because we are seeing this mentor figure from the perspective of our hopeful and optimistic protagonist. Their chemistry is very natural and their light-hearted banter is a blast to watch. The side characters are very much kept to the side in order to keep the focus on Eddie and Bronson, but it helps the film overall when those side characters are very well cast with the likes of Keith Allen, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Rune Temte, Mark Benton, Jim Broadbent and Christopher Walken.
It’s easy to call something like Eddie the Eagle “fluff,” but I’ll be damned if this isn’t some well-done fluff. We’re so used to seeing movies try so hard to be this big, inspiring, life-changing event that we have gone numb to the tropes, and regardless of any historical inaccuracies the film may have, it’s films like Eddie the Eagle that show there is a way to do it right and to do it effectively. What you get is a film so endlessly and effortlessly charming that it sweeps you into the emotions of the characters. The filmmaking behind it is on point, the humor is sharp, the emotions are never forced; the film doesn’t attempt to reach beyond its means (which honestly might be it’s only real “flaw”) and as a result, the film moves fast, keeps you invested the whole time and leaves you with a big smile on your face. It’s an absolutely joy and that’s all it ever needed to be. 85/100