The British love a plucky loser. “Eddie the Eagle” tells the astonishing but true story of everyman plasterer Eddie Edwards who qualified for, and then competed in, the Calgary Olympics in 1988 (probably most famous for those other plucky losers – the Jamaican bobsleigh team of Disney’s “Cool Runnings” fame). I have absolutely no idea how the traditionally more success-driven and competitive American audience will see it, but the packed English showing I attended all clearly loved this film as a feel-good classic.
The film starts with Eddie’s childhood, struggling out of leg braces to try to pursue his Olympic dream with no success whatsoever. (Excellent performances here by brothers Tom and Jack Costello who set-up the tone for the film). His battle is not just against his lack of skill: whilst his mother (Jo Hartley) is quietly supportive, his father Terry (Keith Allen) is – not unreasonably it must be said – hugely frustrated at his son’s fanciful ideas, wanting him to follow in the family plastering tradition with the same zeal. (The gulf in ambition is vast – Eddie: “Didn’t you have a dream when you were younger Dad?”; Terry: “Yes, plastering”.)
Eventually Eddie finds a sport he is half decent in (by British standards!): downhill skiing, but is thwarted in following his Olympic dreams by smarmy and sneering Olympic selector Dustin Target, played by Tim McInnerny (from “Black Adder” and “Notting Hill”… someone who has rather cornered the market on ‘smarmy and sneering’). It is then that he exploits ancient rules in the UK Olympic playbook to try to qualify in the discipline of ski-jumping: something noone has done since the 1920’s. Linking up in Austria with an alcohol-infused coach and ex-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), Eddie faces the terrors of the 40m and then 70m jumps to try to learn the sport (16 years too late).
This film has been long in gestation, with both Steve Coogan and Rupert Grint originally earmarked for the role. But Matthew Vaughn’s involvement in the current project probably contributed to Taron Egerton getting the job following their work together on last year’s “Kingsman”. And a great choice he is too. Almost unrecognizable from the sharp-suited Eggsy in “Kingsman” and gangster-sidekick Teddy in “Legend”, Egerton switches effortlessly between clueless goofball and steely determined sportsman.
The film’s emotional heart though is with Hugh Jackman’s side-story, battling with drink after throwing his own chance away with US-coach Warren Sharp (a nice cameo by Christopher Walken). Although going a little OTT at times (we see for example that he is no Meg Ryan!), Jackman provides a solid acting foundation that the rest of the cast can play off.
Rounding out the cast are solid performances from Jo Hartley (“This is England”) as Eddie’s Mum, Mark Benton (“Waterloo Road”) as a BOA official, Rune Temte as a bear of a Norwegian coach and the ever-warming Jim Broadbent as a BBC commentator.
An ‘attaboy’ should also go to the special effects crew headed up by Marty McLaughlin for making believe a man can fly. Whilst – you understand – not in any way doubting Jackman’s ability to risk his pretty face on a 90m jump, the nighttime sequence of him doing that jump is really nicely executed (with cinematography by George Richmond).
A quick browse at Wikipedia will make it clear that there has been a lot of license taken with this as a “true story”, and to be fair the prefix “based on a..” was used! And the film is not without irritations: Terry’s negativity to his son’s actions is about 25% overplayed in Simon Kelton’s story, and the coach/protégé sub-plot has been overused in the past. The soundtrack (music) by Matthew Margeson is also rather grating particularly early on in the film: it is presumably going for ‘period’ in its use of Hammond organ cheesiness, but that music was tiresome in the 80’s too! Fortunately Margeson redeems himself with some kick-ass (no pun intended) classic 80’s tracks neatly edited into the action.
These criticisms aside, I dare you to come out of this film without a silly grin on your face. I certainly did. Directed by Dexter Fletcher (“Sunshine on Leith”) it’s not likely to win any Oscars, but in setting out to deliver what it said on the can it succeeded in all respects.
Fad Rating: FFFF.