Eddie the Eagle [50 New-Old Movies for the 51st Year #17]

A couple of months ago, I turned 50 years old!  And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of my life (thus the “Old-New” terminology), and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #17.  Spoilers ahead.  

Eddie the Eagle

Directed by Dexter Fletcher

Release Date:  February 26, 2016
My age then:  45 years old

What it is about:  Eddie Edwards is a real life British skier with Olympic ambitions, but not the ability to make his nation’s team. Instead, he pursues ski jumping, a sport for which his country has no team. With perseverance and the support of a disgraced former ski jumper named Bronson Peary, he is able to qualify for the Olympics and even to compete successfully, not winning but becoming a media sensation.

Starring Taron Egerton as Eddie Edwards and Hugh Jackman as Bronson Peary. Also featuring Jim Broadbent as a BBC commenator, Iris Berben as a tavern owner who helps Eddie, Keith Allen & Jo Hartley as Eddie’s parents, and Christopher Walken as an older famous skier.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I think my early impressions were just that it was one of those films about some dopey guy who makes good, kind of like The Castle. Then later, I got the impression that it was sort of along the lines of a Cool Runnings, except British.

Reality:  Well, my later impressions were wrong in only one important respect–the movie is not “sort of” along the lines of Cool Runnings, it’s basically exactly like Cool Runnings, except British. Like the 1994 Disney film, Eddie the Eagle is a roughly true story about unlikely athletes competing in a Winter Olympics sport that all conventional wisdom would say they are unfit for. They are assisted by a coach who was a former star of the sport, but is now somewhat disgraced. They face opposition from the Olympic Committee itself, and are scorned by their fellow athletes. They become favorites of the media, and eventually, prove their self worth and dignity by finishing their event, even though they don’t come anywhere close to winning. To cap it off, both stories are vaguely based on true stories which took place around the exact same Winter Olympics (Calgary, 1988). And you can even watch both movies on Disney+ (I did).

The movie is fully aware of these comparisons–there’s even an Easter Egg reference to the Jamaican bobsled team at one point. Apparently, producer Matthew Vaughn watched Cool Runnings with his kids, which inspired him to do something similar that one could watch with children, and led him to get involved with this picture. The result is mostly successful, although the scene where Hugh Jackman compares ski jumping to having a sex with a movie star, with a little bit of uncomfortable detail, sort of undermines that “for children” aspect a little bit.

Where Eddie the Eagle really excels over Cool Runnings is how authentically the film is tied to the culture that it is depicting. Where Cool Runnings shows a pop-culture, foreign view of being Jamaican, Eddie the Eagle feels like it is legitimately grounded in working-class Britain. So even though there are certain fairy-tale qualities to the whole affair, it doesn’t have that “Disney sheen” that keeps everything sparkly-clean. Eddie is an ordinary guy in a rough world, who makes good through hard work and grit, and the ability to take a lot of punishment.

That’s really the other distinguishing feature from Cool Runnings–the shots of Eddie wiping out as he learns his craft are pretty visceral. We feel his pounding and it’s always a bit astounding that he survives, mostly intact.

Taron Egerton does a solid job in the film, creating quite a sympathetic figure in Eddie. Hugh Jackman looks good as always, playing the coach (who is completely fictional) as sort of a toned-down version of Wolverine if he was into ski jumping–he even does a jump while chomping down on a cigarette. There are other cast members who are also fine, but really it’s these two that carry us through the entire film.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think?  There are plenty of hokey moments in Eddie the Eagle, but mostly, they are earned. The climax is undoubtedly inspirational and on the whole, the movie has got more depth of character and context than the similarly-plotted Cool Runnings.

See here for the Master List.

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