From Bad News Bears to Cool Runnings to The Mighty Ducks, it’s hard not to love an underdog sports story. Sure, they can occasionally be formulaic and predictable, but there’s always pleasure in cheering for David in a fight against Goliath, and there’s always tremendous potential for fun character work in like-minded films. It’s become a great cinematic tradition, and it’s one that director Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie The Eagle falls right in line with, mixing kooky period style with a ridiculous and fantastic tale of true passion and fortitude.
Inspired by the feel-good true story that emerged from the 1988 Winter Olympics, the film stars Taron Egerton as Eddie Edwards: an awkward young Englishman who, despite being largely uncoordinated and unskilled, wishes to do nothing in his life other than compete for a medal in the Olympic Games. Throughout his youth, he constantly searches for the sport in which he can actually compete – and has a revelation when he discovers the art of ski jumping (a sport that Great Britain hadn’t competed in for decades).
Leaving his entire world behind, Eddie travels to Germany to learn at an elite ski jumping training center – but being as old as he is, he’s constantly mocked and told that he doesn’t have a chance. That is, until he catches the eye of an American, retired, and consistently drunk former ski lumping champion named Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who begrudgingly agrees to take Eddie under his wing and teach him how to compete on the global level.
Admittedly, from that plot description, you can probably predict each beat of Eddie The Eagle as it plays out, but what the film lacks in big surprises it makes up in miles of heart and really perfect style. It’s clear that Dexter Fletcher knew exactly what kind of movie he was making going into the project, as it functions as a wonderful throwback to the era of classic underdog sports movies – complete with a rich, synth-filled score from Matthew Margeson that simultaneously keeps you pumped for the action while winking at the silliness of its subject matter. You’ll run out of fingers and toes trying to count the number of overused sports-movie tropes that find their way into the story, but because it’s done with such knowing flair instead of sheer laziness, it all feels strangely refreshing and fun, instead of laborious.
It’s worth mentioning that the film also takes many liberties with the story of Eddie Edwards – to the point where most of the movie is basically fictionalized – but in this day and age, that tactic actually feels worth applauding. Cinemas are regularly filled with by-the-book biopics that have no interest in straying from the details of the true story (possibly due to fears of inaccuracy claims), but Eddie The Eagle rather brazenly defies this approach and fabricates some rather huge parts of the story (such as the existence of fictional coach Bronson Peary, for starters). While some may admonish the film for this fact, it’s actually really great to see filmmakers (including Dexter Fletcher, in addition to screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton) who understand the line between emotional truth and factual truth, and use it to their advantage by making a more compelling story from the source material. Eddie The Eagle might not get everything completely right, but there’s also no denying that the movie is a great reflection and representation of its central figure.
Of course, a lot of that spirit comes from the actual portrayal of Eddie, and in playing a role that is a complete 180-degree turn from his breakout performance in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, Taron Egerton not only demonstrates great range, but also some very abnormal and fascinating charisma. Sporting a pair of glasses that take over half his face, and a prominent under bite that makes him look consistently confused, Eddie is an awkward guy and unconventional protagonist, but Egerton really makes you care about his success simply by selling his extreme passion and unwillingness to be put down by all the “No’s” that he has heard throughout his life. Add in the great chemistry that he shares with Hugh Jackman (who puts in a fun, engaging performance of his own), and you realize that Eddie The Eagle will be one of the films we look back on with extreme fondness as Egerton rises to greater prominence in the industry.
Looking back, the 1990s was a great era for family sports movies - with the release of not just the aforementioned Cool Runnings and The Mighty Ducks, but also The Sandlot, Rudy, and more – and Eddie The Eagle feels more in tradition with those films than anything we’ve seen in a while. It’s not to be taken too seriously, but it definitely succeeds as a silly, entertaining underdog story, so understand that going in, and you will have fun.