Every underdog has his day — that could well be the tagline for Eddie the Eagle. Dexter Fletcher's new film about the life of the British ski-jumper Eddie Edwards never really surprises, but its charm and a strong central performance from Taron Egerton won me over nonetheless.
The film opens in 1973 when a young Eddie (Tom Costello Jr.) announces his lofty intentions of becoming an Olympian despite not being any good at sport. "Frankly, Eddie, you will never be Olympic material," his father (Keith Allen) tells him. His mother (Jo Hartley) is more supportive, though, and by the early 1980s, Eddie has become a moderately successful downhill skier. After narrowly missing out on a spot on the British squad for the 1984 Olympics, he decides to take up ski-jumping instead. "It's still skiing — it's just a bit higher," he says, with his characteristic optimism.
Qualifying for the Olympics as a British ski-jumper is much easier as there was no British team and thus no competitors, although Eddie still has to jump a minimum distance in a recognised competition. As such, he heads off to a German training facility to practice and train with some of the world's best jumpers, including the legendary Matti 'Flying Finn' Nykänen (Edvin Endre). Unusually, actually, it's the Scandinavians who are the baddies: they think he is a joke and try to scare him away from the facility — and the sauna.
Eddie soon realises that he faces some rather substantial stumbling blocks; notably, "how do you land?" He manages to land the 15-metre jump first time ("what a doddle!") but the 40-metre jump proves a more formidable challenge. Luckily, help is on hand in the form of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a washed-up former ski-jumper turned alcoholic, who grudgingly agrees to become Eddie's coach, realising that it is the path of least resistance — and that the tenacious young jumper is likely to seriously injure himself without training. The Scandis dub the pair the 'sober fool' and the 'drunken coward' but the unlikely duo make a surprisingly good team and before long, Calgary 1988 is within Eddie's grasp. But even if he makes it to the Winter Olympics, will the world ever see him as anything more than a joke?
Although I had heard of Eddie the Eagle, I wasn't familiar with his story before I saw Fletcher's film — the real Eddie Edwards has also said that only about 10% is based on his life. Nevertheless, you know where the film is going right from the start. Even the music is predictable: the jolly synth-pop soundtrack builds up nicely throughout the film until of course Van Halen's Jump plays during the climax. None of this matters, though: we Brits love a good underdog story and Eddie the Eagle is an entertaining and uplifting film. No, you won't be using too many brain cells, but Egerton's Eddie is a sweet and plucky character whom you can't help but like. In this film, he reminded me a little of a young Matt Damon. The contrast between Egerton's cheerful Eddie and Jackman's dour Bronson works very well too and there's a great cameo from Christopher Walken.
All in all, Eddie the Eagle is a fun feel-good-film that probably isn't going to win any Olympic gold medals for film-making, but is a likeable and charming contestant.