If Olympic medals were given for tenacity, then Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards would have returned to England from the 1988 Calgary Winter Games with a whole fistful. What this plasterer-turned-ski-jumper lacked in skill and athletic prowess, he compensated for with fearless determination and unbridled joy, much to the delight of the crowds and hungry press. Although Edwards came home empty-handed, he returned as a hero – the underdog champion who demonstrated that showing up to compete is its own reward. There is triumph in having the heart of a champion, even if it doesn’t pump out medals. Edwards’ can-do optimism is the kind of trait they make movies about (witness Cool Runnings, the film about the quixotic Jamaican bobsled team, which also competed in the ’88 Olympics).
Although a sickly child, Edwards (Egerton) always dreamed of being an Olympian. His single-minded passion was for the Games themselves, rather than any particular event. He teaches himself to become a passable downhill skier, but the British Olympic Association deems him too unpolished to join the country’s team. “You will never be an Olympian,” booms the official to the clumsy young man. With an awkward gait and facial expressions, oversized glasses, ill-fitting snowsuit, and naive determination, Edwards’ mental abilities are almost as much in question as his physical skills. But persevere he does when he notices a loophole that allows him to compete as a ski jumper – despite never having jumped before and Britain not having a team in this event.
Here’s where the biopic verges into fantasy: Edwards finds himself a coach: the fictitious Bronson Peary (Jackman), a former champion skier who’s now a dissolute shell of his former self, who decides to help Edwards just to keep the kid from breaking his neck. Although Jackman lends some charisma to the film, his character is portrayed as two-dimensionally as all the others here (and the fake orgasm he mimes while demonstrating how jumping would be akin to making love to Bo Derek is just plain embarrassing). Edwards’ dad offers blustery opposition to his son’s foolish plans, while his mom is quietly supportive; competitors from other countries glare and ridicule him to get off of their slopes. But as long as underdog sports stories hold a place in the cinematic universe, Eddie the Eagle, despite its shortcomings, will soar into moviegoers’ hearts.
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