Last week, I reviewed Stephen Hopkins Race and wrote ad nauseam about the problems with the uplifting sports film, especially ones that trade heavily in the cliches and generic expectations of the genre. It’s a new week and here we are again, this time with Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle. Fletcher’s film, like Hopkins’ Race, is wholly predictable and wallows in feel-good inspiration. Where Eddie the Eagle surpasses Hopkins’ film — at least mildly — is that it isn’t constrained by gravitas of its subject matter, an aspect that allows itself an amount of levity. This is a film that wants to be warm-hearted and inspiring, and the simple fact that this is its purpose is a good sign.
Also in its favor — something Race, with its extremely well-known subject matter perhaps isn’t quite allowed — is the ability to deviate from its source. The story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton, Kingsman: The Secret Service), a socially awkward and wholly unathletic dreamer who managed to wriggle his way via loopholes into becoming an unsuccessful — yet charming — Olympic ski-jumper. Obviously, this isn’t as notable or memorable a story as Jesse Owens,’ but in its favor, its obscurity allows for a bit of leeway in its storytelling. Edwards’ reluctant coach, Bronson (Hugh Jackman), is apparently a complete fabrication, but his existence streamlines the film and makes it not just about Eddie’s hardheadedness, but about a friendship. This friendship follows the usual reluctant odd-couple schtick, with the alcoholic, womanizing Bronson being the one who grows the most.
Of course, this is an especially hoary character arc, one that feels shabby, but that’s mainly because Eddie the Eagle is rather antiquated. It’s gentle and unassuming and occasionally charming, but always predictable. In the film’s favor, there’s never a sense that Eddie’s going to overcome all the odds and win an Olympic medal. Instead, the film makes it obvious that he’s merely out to prove himself, which in itself is refreshing. Unfortunately, every step of the way is telegraphed until the film reaches its feel-good, manipulative ending. This can make the journey itself tedious at times — particularly when the audience is ahead of the movie — but there’s enough whimsy here to make things watchable, if none too exciting.
Helping things is Egerton, stretching himself beyond his role in last year’s Kingsman: The Secret Service. His Eddie is simple and a bit bumbling, but ultimately likable in his good nature and determination. Egerton’s performance takes a bit of getting used to (he’s perhaps a bit too physically striking for the role), but it’s his innate likability that allows a pretty unexciting plot to work and to imbue the film with an amount of heart. This is no great work of cinematic art, but as entertainment in its own right, it’s not bad. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking.