The second of three Olympic-themed movies coming down the pipe—sandwiched in between Race and The Bronze—Eddie the Eagle is a charming crowd-pleaser about a perpetual loser who games the system to become an Olympian. It’s too loosey-goosey with the facts to count as a real biopic—the film includes integral characters conjured out of thin air—but Eddie the Eagle nails the spirit of the underdog story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards, a British Olympian who participated in the 1988 Olympics. You might remember the 1988 Olympics as the site of another underdog tale—the Jamaican bobsled team featured in Cool Runnings also participated in those games. The Eighties had all the cool Olympics.
Taron Egerton stars as Eddie, and he proves that The Kingsman: Secret Service was not a fluke. He’s working hard to approximate the look of the real Eddie the Eagle, sporting oversized glasses and doing a weird thing with his mouth, but the overall effect is kind of “secretly hot girl with glasses”—just lose the specs and he’s once again a handsome movie star. But his charisma is unflagging, and Egerton is super fun to watch, especially when he shares the screen with Hugh Jackman, who plays his fictional coach, Bronson Peary. The two of them together are goddamn delightful, and they make Eddie work almost in spite of itself.
The film begins with ten-year-old Eddie trying to find the sport that suits him best. He dreams of being an Olympian, but is hilariously un-athletic. Eddie is a classic cinematic loser—awkward, bumbling, and terrible at everything—and between that and the film’s bright, neon-accented color palette and Eighties setting, Eddie feels like a throwback to Ski School and Better Off Dead. By the time Eddie switches from summer sports to skiing, it feels like the film ought to include a race down Copper Mountain to save a shabby resort from developers.
Eddie proves to have some talent for downhill skiing, but shenanigans by the British Olympic team prevent him from competing in that sport. So he latches onto ski jumping, knowing that an obscure rule will allow him to compete in that event, since Britain hadn’t fielded a ski jumping team in decades. The British Olympic officials continue to be dickheads, though, because Eddie is working class poor and not the kind of posh toff the be-blazered officials prefer to have on their team. A sharper movie would examine the class dynamics more closely, but Eddie isn’t interested in Making Statements, it just wants to make you feel good.
While teaching himself how to ski jump, Eddie meets Bronson Peary, an alcoholic former champion who inevitably agrees to mentor Eddie, despite having his own hang-ups with the sport. Jackman is really good as Bronson, and he and Egerton have great chemistry, which comes in handy as the middle portion of the film drags a bit. The whole Bronson subplot about reconciling with his own former coach feels like someone didn’t trust the audience to care about nerdy Eddie and his quest for Olympic glory, but really, that’s all the film needs. Bronson and his problems are more distracting than compelling. But once we get to the Olympics things pick up again, and even though Eddie is cheesy and sort of cartoony, it’s so sweet and optimistic it’s hard not to be drawn in.
Director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith) puts together some fairly impressive visuals, giving us a first-person view of what it’s like to throw yourself off a huge ski jump—terrifying—but other than those brief scenes, the film lacks distinctive style. It’s a waste of the colorful Eighties setting for the film to feel so anonymous for much of its run time. But really it’s about Eddie and his perseverance, and with the combined star wattage of Egerton and Jackman, Eddie the Eagle is a fun little movie.