In many ways, "Eddie the Eagle" comes across as a very paint-by-numbers sports biopic. Underdog protagonist? Check. Uninterested father hoping his son will give up his dreams and follow in his footsteps? Check (in this case, the business is plaster). Washed-up-sports-star-turned-unlikely-coach? Present and accounted for. Training montages and a team of imposing foreign rivals? Check and check. An ending that sees the underdog rise up as the greatest champion of the world? Well, there's the hook.
See, the real-life Michael "Eddie" Edwards was never meant to be a champion. He knows that. His reluctant coach knows that. Both of his parents and members of the British Olympic Association know that. But it isn't because Eddie wins that the audience loves him, it's because of his sheer determination to compete. This slight twist, in addition to an awesome '80s synth soundtrack by Matthew Margeson and a snowplow full of charm from both Eggerton and Jackman, ensures that even if "Eddie the Eagle"may not stand above the best sports movies, but like its protagonist, it deserves to stand among them.
The film opens with Eddie as a physically disabled child full, with an Olympic history book in his hand and a whole milk glass full of moxie. Determined to take part in the world's greatest sporting competition, Eddie tries out everything from the pole vault to the javelin, much to the chagrin of his increasingly exasperated father, who simply wants Eddie to pitch in around the house. Bolstered by the support of his mum, the adult Eddie (Taron Eggerton) eventually finds some success in downhill skiing. But when it comes time for the 1987 British Olympic team to be selected, Eddie is told in rather frank terms that he doesn't have what it takes and best of luck. But Eddie has more than that, he's got a clerical loophole on his side. There hasn't been a British ski jumper since the 1920s, and there is nothing stopping Eddie from being the only man on the team.
Eddie decides to begin his training in Germany, where he runs into the Scandinavian paragons of the sport, whom of course immediately discount and discourage the crazy Brit. And they may have a point- the event in which they take part is incredibly dangerous, as evidenced by the several violent crash sequences that occur over the course of the film. But Eddie is undeterred, even when the drunken American groundskeeper (Hugh Jackman) tells him to stop ripping up his snow. The drunk is of course (in keeping with the spirit of this kind of film) the former American Olympian downhill ski jumper Bronson Peary, from whom Eddie is determined to learn the fundamentals of the sport.
What follows is the usual setup of minor setbacks (the Olympic selection committee enact a new set of rules preventing Eddie from competing; Eddie has to steal his father's van to go on the European circuit; etc.) followed by training montages and punctuated with riveting sequences of Eddie actually jumping.
Each of these sequences is nearly identical in setup: an establishing shot of the dizzying hit, a super close up on Eggerton's protruding chin as he barrels down the ramp, and the musical cue on take off that is just shy of being Steve Austin's new ringtone (the cyborg, not the wrestler). The only difference in each is the landing, and since Eddie falls on his face just as many times as he nails it, the sequence grips you every time.
The films ending directly tackles the controversy surrounding the real-life Edwards, namely, that he was making a mockery of the sport in which he competed. It's done in such a way that even if you are beginning to think that Edwards may just be there for his fifteen minutes of fame, by the film's finale, you will be standing alongside everyone else rooting him on-- yes, even his Scandinavian rivals.
"Eddie the Eagle" comes off in the end feeling like a British Wes Anderson directing "Cool Runnings" (1993, the events of which actually also took place during the 1988 Winter Olympics, and a film that also receives a nice little shout out during the one). It is full of color, charm, heart, and a never-give-up attitude. And although it may take liberties with the inspiring events (it won't take a trip to Wikipedia to realize that Jackman's character was too cool to ever have existed) this cheerful homage to the 80s sport movie will have you rooting alongside it until the finale. At that point, when paired with a magnificent final entry to the soundtrack, if you're not screaming out a silent "Yes!" in the theater while putting out a few might fist pumps- well, I think I might have a job for you on the British Selection committee.