Eddie “the Eagle” was the nickname of the British skier born Michael Edwards. For most American moviegoers, the next response to that would be, “Um excuse me, who?” In the absence of challengers, the record holder was the first person to represent Great Britain in the sport of ski jumping at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. But he wasn’t a gold winning athlete. Far from it in fact. The plasterer by trade had a surprising lack of aptitude for an Olympian.
Eddie’s saga actually began in the competitive world of downhill skiing but he switched to ski jumping when he realized it was easier to qualify. You see, there were no other British ski jumpers to rival him. He attracted publicity thanks to an upbeat can-do attitude that captivated the hearts of his fellow countrymen, much to the chagrin of the discipline’s purists. Coincidentally this was the same Olympics at which the Jamaican bobsled team famously made their debut. That much more familiar tale (to Americans anyway) was recounted in the 1993 movie Cool Runnings, an underdog story with which Eddie the Eagle shares a very similar narrative structure. The film’s essence can be summarized in one sentence: “You don’t have to win, to be a winner.” Taron Egerton affably portrays Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards as an unlikely hero.
Actor Egerton was nominated for the Rising Star Award at the 69th British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTAs) in 2016. He didn’t win. John Boyega of Star Wars: The Force Awakens received that honor. But if Egerton had, he would have been deserving of the accolade. He auspiciously came to widespread attention in the hit Kingsman: The Secret Service, then followed up with a supporting role in the Tom Hardy movie Legend. Now he’s back in the lead with this biopic. It’s almost as if each character was played by three different actors. The depictions couldn’t be more dissimilar from one another. As Eddie, Taron exudes earnest passion. Even prickly Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), after several refusals, finally accedes to coach him – won over by Eddie’s enthusiasm.
Eddie the Eagle is so guileless in its composition, that at times it’s hard to tell whether the concoction is winking at the audience or simply just that incredibly straightforward. I suspect the latter in most cases. The uncomplicated drama clearly seeks to uplift the subject. I have to give the script credit for such cheerful goodwill. It has a lot of heart. Yet the film itself is kind of artificial. At one point it uses Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams” in a training montage without a hint of sarcasm. The 80s styled font titles announcing the height of each jump and Matthew Margeson’s cheesy synth-heavy score dovetail nicely with Edgerton’s demeanor.
Eddie the Eagle all works together in a rather campy, but loving tribute. My lack of familiarity with the actual man is a benefit because Edgerton’s performance never rang false. It’s an odd characterization. Taron Edgerton dons big glasses and affects an underbite to play the gawky athlete. He mercilessly hams it up playing up Eddie’s little eccentricities. Occasionally the portrait verges on caricature. However Eddie is so likable and sweet that you forgive the affectations. What comes through is a genuine soul who just wanted to compete so badly. That Edgerton makes us understand this man without resorting to ridicule is kind of miraculous. His sincerity, much like the real life Eddie the Eagle, won me over.