From way up here, my view is clear,
And all the world extends below.
They wait to see if this wannabe
Deserves this chance and vertigo.
Yet no one thought this soaring spot
Could be achieved by such as me.
They patronized and minimized
My every try and cut me free.
But not this time, this chance sublime,
Unmarred by how they’ve criticized;
I’m flying higher than critics desire
And won’t the scolders be surprised!
I don’t compare in skill or flair
With medalists, but I aspire.
That goal sincere has brought me here.
Now just to land, and I’ll retire.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (could almost be PG)
One of the most pleasant surprises from last year was how the story of an apparent goofball from the 1988 Winter Olympics exceeded its by-the-numbers genre to become one of the most uplifting films of the year. Inspirational sports dramas are a dime-a-dozen, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call Eddie the Eagle the best underdog story since the 1993 classic Rudy.
That comparison extends to the plucky protagonist whose dogged refusal to give up overshadows his relative lack of athletic ability. Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has dreamed since childhood of going to the Olympics, despite the repeated failures of his clumsy practice runs. All the familiar ingredients are here: a father (Keith Allen) who thinks Eddie’s dreams are a waste of time, an authority figure (Tim McInnerny) who disparages Eddie and does all he can to block the irrepressible upstart, an embittered coach (Hugh Jackman) who grudgingly agrees to mentor the young dreamer. It’s all so potentially cliché, and yet it’s all done so well, thanks in large part to the unironic exuberance of Egerton as Eddie himself.
Eddie’s journey is a constant struggle that never seems to faze him, or at least doesn’t keep him down for long. In many ways, he glides along on unrealistic goals and loopholes, choosing to compete as an Olympic ski jumper when he discovers that Great Britain hasn’t had one since the 1920s. If it gets him to the Olympics, it doesn’t matter if he’s completely inexperienced. Yet it’s his unabashed spirit that earns some much-needed sympathy along his way and convinces disgraced former competitor Bronson Peary to coach and support him. Ordinarily, the coach would be the one encouraging his protégé, but Eddie needs no outside encouragement and instead lightens the drunken cynicism of his trainer.
It’s an important development toward the end that Eddie recognizes that his jubilation in the face of apparent failure can be seen as the antics of a fool and addresses those concerns head-on. Ultimately, as the film and a quote from the founder of the Olympics state, it doesn’t matter that Eddie’s best efforts still come up short, just as it didn’t matter that Rudy’s moment of truth was only a single touchdown: the very act of participating and doing one’s best is admirable, and it’s no wonder that Eddie’s tenacious joy and determination captured the hearts of spectators.
It helps too that the film is designed to be as crowd-pleasing as possible, with a good deal of humor and a deliciously ‘80s soundtrack with well-placed song staples from the time, like Van Halen’s “Jump.” Egerton and Jackman imbue their familiar character types with likable personalities, Egerton lovably nerdy and Jackman ruggedly cool, and are easy to root for. By the film’s breath-holding climax (which surely looks ridiculous to those not in the moment), I was cheering alongside the characters with the biggest smile a movie has given me in some time. Plus, except for some brief sexual dialogue, the film is refreshingly family-friendly and free of profanity.
It’s true that the core story of Eddie the Eagle is far from original and ends on Eddie’s most positive moment with no mention of the fact that his next three attempts to reach the Olympics failed due to eligibility changes. Thus, its inspirational bias may seem contrived to some, but when a film is this uplifting and joyous, who cares? Eddie the Eagle takes its genre and flies high with it.
Best line: (quoting Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympics) “The most important thing is not the victory but the struggle.”
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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