Eddie the Eagle recently won Heartland Film's Truly Moving Picture Award — and it completely lives up to that title. This is the kind of film that will send shivers of excitement up your spine and tears of joy down your face. Yes, it's a sports drama, but the sport — ski jumping — doesn't really matter. The characters soar even when they're not on the snow-swept slopes.
Ever since he was a little boy, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) wanted to compete in the Olympics. Knee problems and leg braces didn't dissuade him from pursuing his dream. Neither did disqualification from the downhill skiing team in the 1984 Olympic Games. With a lot of failure under his belt and very little funding, Eddie went on to become the first competitor to represent Great Britain in ski jumping.
The film is largely true. The only full-fledged fabrication is Hugh Jackman's character, Bronson Peary. An Olympic ski jumper turned snow plow driver, Bronson warms his bitter bones with alcohol and hides his insecurity by constantly spewing insults. Of course, that doesn't stop Eddie, who eventually persuades Bronson to be his coach.
The chemistry between Jackman and Egerton is electric. The two of them fit together like puzzle pieces. Eddie's optimism patches up the holes in Bronson's heart, the chinks in his armor. Through his eyes — which are always searching for hope and approval — Egerton effectively conveys the idea that Bronson is as challenging for Eddie as the ski slope. And Jackman shows vulnerability beneath Bronson's bravado.
Bronson tries to keep him humble, but Eddie becomes a celebrity at the 1988 Olympics — not for his athleticism but for his enthusiasm. After barely setting a record for Great Britain, Eddie dances in front of the crowd and flaps his arms like a bird, thus earning his famous nickname. Some think he's a sideshow, many others think he's a hero. Eddie drives the media wild.
Director Dexter Fletcher maintains a playful tone, setting a brisk pace and bringing out the quirkiness of the story with a bouncy synth-pop score. The whole film feels like a power ballad by an '80s hair band. It has "an especially unique aesthetic for an offbeat sports movie," said Heartland Film Artistic Director Tim Irwin in a recent press release.
It's often striking and original, but Eddie the Eagle ultimately still falls prey to the sports drama formula. It's a story you've seen a million times, following an underdog as he defies expectations and beats the odds. It's no surprise that he soars in the end. What's really surprising — and inspirational — is that he tried. As the founder of the International Olympic Committee once said, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle." Sports movies have been saying this for a long time, but it's a reminder worth hearing again.