The underdog story hardly surprises anymore, and unless the director is extremely skilled at building suspense and doubt, it is pretty much a given that the underdog will come out on top in one way or another. The whole “will they win?” question becomes redundant at this point because unless you’re watching some morbidly depressing film, you can expect there to be some sort of inspiration and a hint of happiness, even if the underdog “loses.”
Eddie the Eagle is essentially Rocky on skis. If you’ve seen one, you can pretty much predict how the other will fare. Thankfully, director Dexter Fletcher doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but rather embraces this odd-ball true story in all its hammy glory to make a refreshingly fun tale that bares the all-too-important reminder that you shouldn’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot be.
Based on the memoirs (though reportedly only about 10% faithful to the source material) of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, the film zips through his aspirations of a child to his time at the 1988 Winter Olympics with humor, heart, and predictable inspiration that remarkably rings true. Repeatedly told in just about every single scene by every single character that he is not “Olympic material,” Eddie sets out to prove everyone wrong with his big glasses and pints of milk.
Up-and-comer Taron Egerton (Kingsman) delights in the role of Eddie. Unmoved by the doubts of everyone (including his father), his fierce determination sends him to Germany to train for a sport that most other competitors have been active in since childhood. Egerton is wonderful and relatable, and his struggles are never diluted by pesky romantic subplots or other detractors. What we get instead is an inspiring performance from someone who is himself a bit of an underdog breaking into the big leagues of Hollywood.
Along the way we are introduced to another underdog, Bronson Peary, a bitter, alcoholic former ski jumping prodigy played by Hugh Jackman in one of his first “comedic” roles in far too long. With a bromantic chemistry, the two inspire each other to do better as Peary trains Eddie in your typical underdog fashion…but it’s a sheer pleasure to watch them interact.
While Eddie the Eagle nails many of its high points with poignancy and force, some moments, particularly his shortcomings, get brushed over in what feels like too much of an attempt to prevent the audience from feeling let down. Interestingly, according to the real Eddie, the character should have faced much more adversity, which ultimately makes his rise feel just a touch too easy. This might weaken the emotional impact slightly, but there’s still enough here to make your heart swell.
Though entirely predictable and perhaps a little cheesy, Eddie the Eagle still succeeds on many fronts. With wonderful performances, a touching story, and enough inspiration to get your through to the end of the week, Eddie the Eagle reminds us that every victory counts, even the little ones. This one is definitely a winner.