Just a few months after Angelo Pizzo's latest attempt, My All-American, to revisit the inspirational sports story glory he practically defined by penning Hoosiers and Rudy failed ignite the box-office and excite America, director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith) captures that wonderfully inspirational feeling all over again with Eddie the Eagle, inspired by the true story of Michael "Eddie" Edwards, the kind of lovable underdog that inspirational sports flicks love to portray because they almost defy belief.
Little Eddie, played as a child by Tom Costello Jr., has a gimpy leg but a relentless heart and a dream to one day be an Olympic athlete. He's the kind of kid who wins the "Mental Attitude Award" at everything he does, but he never quite brings home a blue ribbon. Supported by his warm and dedicated mother (Jo Hartley) and taunted by his more practical father (Keith Allen), one would think that after more than a few failures Eddie would resign himself to working alongside his father in manual labor.
Played as a young man by Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Eddie takes one more failure when he switches over to targeting the Winter Olympics and discovers a bit of a loophole as the British hadn't had a ski jumping team for over fifty years. He becomes determined to become an Olympic ski jumper despite a British Olympic Committee that rejects him every step of the way and an entire nation that seemed to consider him more inspirational porn than an actual athlete. When he attracts the attention of a former ski jumping great, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), himself a man whose great promise was never fulfilled, suddenly Eddie's crazy dream seems a little less crazy.
If you know anything about the real Michael Edwards, then you know that he was, in fact, what most would consider a nerd with huge, horn-rimmed glasses and a sense of physical mechanics potentially described as ostrich meets baby learning to walk. There's a beautiful realism that holds Eddie the Eagle together and it's a realism that makes the film even more inspirational than you might be expecting. British filmmakers are, at least for the most part, a far more realistic lot than most American filmmakers for whom an inspirational sports story requires absolute winning as the only possible outcome. As Eddie the Eagle unfolds, it becomes readily apparent that we're getting grassroots inspiration of the most authentic variety from director Dexter Fletcher.
Egerton, who in real life is a bit of a handsome devil who bears little resemblance to Eddie, nonetheless captures both the earnestness and the awkwardness of Eddie as he tries and fails, tries and fails, tries and fails and, yeah, tries and fails again. Who knows? Maybe Egerton was secretly socially awkward as a kid, but for whatever the reason he had me hooked from beginning to end.
While it's also a tad difficult to buy into the idea of a washed out Hugh Jackman, this is the kind of role I've always adored from Jackman - a little machismo mixed in with tremendous humanity and an inherent likeability. It's a low-key, effective performance that works perfectly alongside Egerton's. Christopher Walken even shows up in a cameo-lite that will no doubt bring a smile to your face. Produced by the team behind Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eddie the Eagle also has a fun extended cameo from a delightfully bemused Jim Broadbent.
Eddie the Eagle picked up the Truly Moving Picture Award from Indy's own Heartland Film, a sure sign that this is one film that's going to inspire you in ways big and small. Opening in theaters alongside the buffed up fizzlebomb Gods of Egypt and the destined to fail 9-9-9, one can only hope this little studio picture can attract the attention it so richly deserves.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic