A Feel Good Film That Finally Soars!
The 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada was arguably the site of two of the most improbable long-shots for Olympic gold in history. The first example was the now famous Jamaican Bobsled Team whose 4 members’ journey from sunny Caribbean island runners to winter sport bobsled drivers was chronicled in the 1993 film Cool Runnings. 23 years later, we get another film of another unlikely hero from those same Olympic games, in the feel good film Eddie the Eagle.
Cool Runnings is a good case study for this film in a lot of ways. Both center around the same event. Both have remarkable underdogs who aren’t really there to really compete for the Gold, but to earn some modicum of respect after experiencing a lot of ridicule on their journey. Both the bobsled team and Eddie Edwards find someone to believe in them and prepare them to perform on the biggest stage in the world for sport. Both of their coaches/trainers are former Olympic athletes who fell from grace and who are in need of redemption as much as the athletes they are training.
On the surface, the main points of both of these stories seem like a typically cliched sports film that we have seen played over and over ad naseum. The amazing thing about both stories is that they actually happened. That is not to say that either film portrays the story as it actually happened, but the main beats of each of these stories actually happened, and in both cases, each film provides the audience a story that they can rally behind and cheer for.
Eddie the Eagle is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who actually doesn’t allow for the film to be the kind of lightweight comedic affair that Cool Runnings was under Disney’s guidance. Now I enjoy Cool Runnings for what it was and am still a fan, but much of the humor of that film was delivered through caricature and gags (like Jamaicans inexperience with the cold and Doug E. Doug’s constantly adding more and more clothing, or his lucky egg). Here, the humor is delivered through the “never-say-I-can’t” attitude of its protagonist, and the give and take between Eddie and his coach, Bronson Peary. There is even a great moment where Eddie the Eagle nods to the Cool Runnings story in a reaction that only Hugh Jackman could pull off.
Aaron Egerton, who recently starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service as “Eggsy”, and in the British mob film Legend, plays Eddie Edwards (Eggsy plays Eddie!). Eddie is depicted as a British child who never really took to sports, despite having an obsession with being an Olympic athlete. He spent his earlier years in leg braces, and since he couldn’t run and attempt sports, spent his time learning how to hold his breath. Once he could do it for almost a minute, he headed out to the bus stop to head to the games in Rome in the early 1970’s. His dad, picks him back up and brings him home before Eddie finds another sport to try to learn in his quest for Olympic gold. This would become a reoccurring pattern.
Eddie’s father is the realist who feels that Eddie’s attempts at sports is a wasted pursuit, even after he grows and gets healthy enough to take off his braces. His dad would rather him learn a trade, like plastering walls like he does. Eddie’s mother on the other hand is a dreamer like Eddie, and feeds his Olympic obsession by giving him a tin box to hold his future medals. Even though it becomes a receptacle for a collection of broken glasses as Eddie tries every track and field event he can, Eddie does not lose heart. He simply is open to another possibility.
Eventually, Eddie faces reality and goes to work with his dad, only to find that the job site is near a winter sport training facility. Eddie switches his focus from the summer games to the winter games and begins to learn to ski. When he finally goes out for a qualifying trial, the head of Great Britain’s Olympic committee bluntly shares with Eddie, that there is no way Eddie will ever represent their country at the Olympic Games.
The rest of the film is Eddie’s tenacious journey to Switzerland to learn to be a ski jumper despite having never made an attempt. It is there that Eddie encounters Bronson Peary, the drunken former American ski jumper, played by Hugh Jackman. Jackman basically plays Peary as a drunken Logan, from X-Men, before being inspired by Eddie’s never-quit attitude. He then slowly begins to transition into a man on his own journey to redemption looking to overcome the disappointment of his former coach and mentor Warren Sharp, played by Christopher Walken.
The film follows a typical formula, but oddly feels fresh, inspiring, and fun. Since it doesn’t feel like it is pandering or reaching for cheesy comedic tropes, it comes off as a strong feel-good film that will inspire even the most cynical heart. I knew exactly where this film was heading, and enjoyed myself every single minute. Aaron Egerton embodied Eddie Edwards’ mannerisms and demeanor and you get lost in the sweet spirit and charm of this eternally optimistic portrayal of a man who won’t give up ever.
Eddie stands out in contrast to the dry humored, self-deprecating manner of much of his fellow British countrymen, and fellow Olympic teammates. It is really that spirit that infuses the film and helps this Eagle soar all the way to the end of the credits. This may in fact be one of the most effective feel-good films in a long time if you are simply wanting to watch a film and walk out grinning. You’ll see it’s shortcomings, its failings, its crashes, and the like, but you’ll be won over anyway much like Peary is won over by Eddie.
We frankly need to feel good sometimes, and this film’s chief aim is being inspiring. In that aim, this film achieves gold, even as it is not trying to win awards, but simply trying to win the respect that Eddie longs for. And for that, this film sticks the landing. The Eagle has landed in one of the biggest inspiration films of the year. Eddie the Eagle is just as cliched as my purposefully cliched lines here, but in both cases cliches really don’t matter for my review or the film….because both are fun and make you smile!