There is something about an underdog sports movie that is just so appealing. Whether it be disability or prejudice, to see a protagonist overcome the odds and win at their craft is extremely satisfying. We’ve seen many sports dramas, and I’m sure we’ll see many more to come, so is Eddie the Eagle just a simple sports movie that makes you feel good? Well, kind of, but don’t limit it. Yes, this is a great movie, and yes, you do feel good watching it. But, due in part to the true story it is based on, there is such heart and humor in this film not found in its peers, elevating it above similar biopics.
Directed by Dexter Fletcher, and produced by Matthew Vaughn (director of Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service), Eddie the Eagle tells the story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, a young british citizen with the hopes of representing his county in the Olympics. After overcoming some slight physical handicaps in his youth, Eddie takes on the craft of skiing, settling on ski jumping as it is a much less competitive sport in Great Britain.
Yes, there is a standard sports drama structure seen in Eddie the Eagle. An unlikely protagonist goes against the system, learns from one of the greats, overcomes some odds, though he may not revolutionize the sport, he teaches us the value of believing in ourselves. I’m not downplaying the success of a good sports drama, it’s great pumping your fist and rooting for the underdog. I just want to make the point that Eddie the Eagle works as more than just a sports drama.
Screenwriters Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton have help create a movie with a distinct sense of humor. Though he didn’t direct it, this film feels very much like a Vaughn film. The sense of humor is slightly irreverent, whether it be comparing ski jumping to sexual intercourse or poking fun at how Norwegians are comfortable being naked around each other, I found myself laughing a lot during Eddie the Eagle.
The humor goes a long way in a film like this. Though it’s not particularly clear, it can be assumed that Edwards may have had some social disorders to work through, and that is usually the focus of movies like this. With that type of subject material, a film like this ends up tackling the “inspiration” route by being extremely sad/dramatic. Instead, Eddie is framed as the eternal optimist, and it is the world around him that has the disorder. British people are funny, Germany is weird, Norwegians are crazy, it is Eddie who is the true hero.
In the midst of this type of goofy world, our two leads do a great job taking us along for the journey. Hugh Jackman is the cocky American who was once great at the sport, but now finds himself shoveling snow and drinking for breakfast. Eddie, as played perfectly by Taron Egerton (Kingsman), portrays a young man who is optimistic, but can also face reality in certain situations. Their friendship is great in the film, and the chemistry between the two actors is palpable. I imagine there was a lot of good will on the set of this film, and it was translated perfectly to the screen.
Ski jumping is very cinematic. Each jump has the potential to break bones, and Fletcher directs these scenes with an insane amount of tension. Each jump, whether it be 40, 70, or 90 meters has the perfect balance of setup and payoff. In a game like hockey, for instance, the game can have ups and downs over the course of two hours. With ski jumping, each jump is an entire game. You would think the jumping would get repetitive by the end of the film, but it doesn’t. Through the writing and acting, we are invested in these characters. Every time he starts his descent, we are nervous. Every time he hits the air, we are excited. Every time his own shortcomings start to hinder a jump, we are scared for his life. And every time he sticks the landing, we celebrate with him.
So yes, there is a typical sports drama that is the skeleton of Eddie the Eagle, and the film delivers the type of satisfaction you feel watching those type of movies. But the “Matthew Vaughn Production” cannot be undersold when talking about this film. Yes, you feel inspired at the end, but like Kick-Ass and Kingsman before it, you also enjoy yourself immensely along the ride. Whether you are laughing at the jokes or celebrating an inspiring young Olympian, Eddie the Eagle is a big winner and does justice to the real-life hero.