Eddie the Eagle is one of those movies I walk out of trying to figure out how to explain why I liked it. There’s far more to criticize than to praise, starting with the fact that it’s corny as hell. I guess I’m a hopeless literalist, but when I go to a movie called Eddie the Eagle, no matter how many times I tell myself that it’s not a documentary, a big part of me still does want to know about, you know, Eddie the Eagle. And this movie is more about the underdog sports movie blueprint than it is about its purported subject. Which is a shame, because he seems like an interesting guy. Why rewrite 75 percent of a true story only to turn it into fiction we’ve already seen 75 times? And, especially barely a week after Race, did we really need another unlikely mentor narrative? Is this the only story Hollywood knows how to tell anymore?
And yet… All that’s probably the subject for another essay, not for a review of Eddie the Eagle. Those are mostly criticisms of the movie Eddie the Eagle isn’t rather than the one it is. True, both Eddie the Eagle and Race spend a lot of their narrative energy on the relationship between an unlikely mentor and the young prodigy who changes everything — you know, the ol’ you’re changin’ that boy’s life/he’s changin’ mine chestnut — but whereas Race depicts Jesse Owens’ real coach at Ohio State and gives him an outsized role, Eddie the Eagle screenwriters Simon Kenton and Sean Macauley invented a fictional mentor more or less out of whole cloth.
“Bronson Peary,” played by Hugh Jackman, is a former golden-boy ski jumper who was kicked off his own Olympic team because he was a flashy hotshot who “didn’t respect the mountain.” This according to his own coach, played by Christopher Walken. In the years since, Peary “crawled into a bottle” (Peary’s own words, strangely) and inexplicably found himself working as a snowcat driver at a training center in Germany.
Meanwhile, Taron Egerton’s Eddie Edwards is a dorky virgin with an irrepressible dream, who wears thick glasses (true!) that are always crooked (citation needed) and drinks milk at bars because alcohol upsets his stomach (highly dubious). According to the film, he discovers ski jumping when, after getting kicked off the British downhill skiing team (partially true), he slumps back against his bedroom wall, dislodging a thumb tack and revealing the previously obscured, ski-jumping corner of his winter Olympics poster. (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this probably didn’t happen either.) That Eddie the Eagle doesn’t make even the slightest pretense towards realism is… admirable, I guess? Though its tendency to paw at the nearest, most obvious, campy cliché gives it a tone that’s somewhere between winking parody and bad movie on purpose. For the first 35 minutes or so, I honestly didn’t know what the hell they were going for.
Would you believe Eddie is a doe-eyed innocent dreamer? Who everyone is a massive c*nt to for no reason? Especially the rich, upper-class jocks? I know, right, who would’ve thought? But while Eddie the Eagle mostly just adds more, older myths to the Eddie the Eagle mythos, it does at least seem to understand his appeal. What separates Eddie the Eagle from Race is that where Race never really chooses an angle, Eddie the Eagle makes a clear choice (the most obvious, Hollywood angle to be sure) and sticks to it. There’s a defining moment in Eddie the Eagle when the Olympic crowd first falls in love with him.
It reminded me of a few years back when I was covering Comic Con. I was walking around feeling horribly cynical, wondering what the hell I was doing there, when I asked some cosplayers if I could take their picture. They all instantly snapped to attention, and the obvious joy they felt to be out in their costumes was so palpable and contagious that it melted every sh*tty, sardonic, misanthropic bone in my body and all of a sudden I felt like the kind of person who might cry at a Zales commercial. Even in its sea of lame clichés, Eddie the Eagle‘s depiction of this kind of feeling was eerily spot on. It brought me right back. I didn’t need all the other crap, but if this is what the movie is supposed to be about, I get it.