The crowed roars. It damn well better, as Eddie the Eagle was built to get an audience cheering. It’s the story of Michael “Eddie” Edwards, a Brit underdog with glasses and no particular athletic talent who went on to compete at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Director Dexter Fletcher shoves inspiration down your throat until you gag or give in. I held out, not because the true story being told here isn’t compelling but because it never feels remotely true. That’s Hollywood for you, always gilding the lily.
Here’s the facts: Eddie, played by Taron Egerton with an unvarying expression of fixed determination, grew up resisting a dad (Keith Allen) who begs him to join the family plastering business. Eddie dreams of Olympic glory. He doesn’t care what sport, and ends up picking ski jumping because the last British rep competed back in 1929. With no competition, Eddie only needs to qualify. He does. He comes in last. But, hell, he made it.
That sounds like enough for a movie — just not this movie. Egerton, so good in Kingsman: The Secret Service, plays Edwards as a neutered saint. Eddie needs a coach and finds one in Bronson Peary, a former ski-jump champ now lost in the bottle. Hugh Jackman plays Peary, a fictional character devised by the filmmakers to provide a redemptive father figure and trainer for Eddie. Jackman, surely the most fit-looking alcoholic in the history of cinema, pours on the charm, especially in the scene where he mimes having sex with Bo Derek to teach Eddie the best thrusting technique to use on the slopes.
If you think that’s a stretch, wait till you see how the movie invents hurdles for Eddie to run, as if the Olympics weren’t enough. Take the other ski jumpers. From the nudists on the Norwegian team to the Finnish champ Matti Nykanen (Edvin Endre), Eddie’s competitors are all little shits eager to get him drunk and watch him fall on his face. In the script by Sean Macauley and Simon Kelton, Eddie has to go it alone. Otherwise, we’d lose our rooting interest. Really? Would we? I doubt it, but we’ll never know. As Eddie flaps his wings and wins public adulation, the deck is stacked.
I’ll admit that the skiing scenes in the film’s finale are spectacularly shot. And the stunt work deserves the gold. But as a film, Eddie the Eagle is tarnished goods. The filmmakers don’t trust us to understand what Eddie is feeling about the Olympics without blaring a musical message from Hall and Oates on the soundtrack, “you make my dreams come true.” Here’s what is true. The reality trumps whatever his missed opportunity of a movie dreams up.