Director Dexter Fletcher was born in the mid-Sixties, and therefore grew up watching ’80s films. Then again, since he’s also a prolific actor, he also acted in many ’80s films himself, like “Gothic” and “Lionheart.”
No doubt that history informed his treatment of “Eddie the Eagle,” a sports biopic set in the late 1980s, and filmed that way, too.
Real-life Michael “Eddie” Edwards (played by Taron Egerton) competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, despite having the odds and the establishment against him. He didn’t do it alone, of course; his mother Janette (an endearing Jo Hartley) always believed in him no matter what, and his reluctant coach Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), himself an ex-Olympian, smoothed out his rather rough edges.
Along the way, the ski jumper and the coach become friends, win hearts and minds, and Peary even stays on the wagon, since he long fell from grace and into the bottle. But Eddie charms him out of the woods and into the light, with Eddie’s relative success being Peary’s as well. As heavy as all of that may sound, it’s a rather lighthearted affair here, almost a puff piece of drama.
• THE FILM: “Eddie the Eagle”
• CRITIC RATING: Three stars
• STARRING: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny
• MPAA RATING: PG-13 for some suggestive material, partial nudity and smoking. 105 minutes.
• BEHIND THE SCENES: Directed by Dexter Fletcher. Screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton; story by Simon Kelton.
• TRIVIA FROM IMDb: On June 6, 2015, the real-life Eddie Edwards himself told BBC news that the movie will be 90 percent made up. Edwards said, “I’ve been warned only 10 to 15 percent of it is based on my life.”
Taron Egerton said he was in awe of co-star Hugh Jackman’s physique. He said, “Hugh Jackman has got guns to die for. Have you seen his arms? They are bigger than my head!” In the film, Jackman plays Egerton’s trainer.
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But it’s such a fun story because of the likes of Egerton bringing crazy Eddie the Eagle to life. He’s a joy to watch with every flabbergasted face he pulls and every step he waddles. He seems to act with his whole body, creating a character so immediately lovable, it’s difficult to do anything but be on his side. Even Hugh Jackman ditches his trademarked Wolverine scowl, playing a fictional coach inspired by some of the actual coaches who taught Edwards. But being a fluff film at its heart, even when Jackman is playing Peary at his worst, there’s still a charm there to keep things from getting too gloomy. There’s plenty of heart, humor, and even a few moments that may move you, or make you stand up and cheer … much like any other sports flick.
But what makes this sports biopic stand apart from similar fare is not only the lighthearted tack it takes even in the midst of serious competition and obstacles, but it’s ’80s feel. Everything from the music (which may be its most obvious 1980s homage) to its pacing and structure recall classic John Hughes films of the decade. I half expected Molly Ringwald to make a cameo at any minute. What might have been a pleasant but run-of-the-mill sports flick became something more, plastering a smile across my face its entire runtime.
The whole cast was obviously in on the idea, too. Everyone seems to be having a great time on screen bringing this offbeat story of an unlikely athlete becoming the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. Edwards finished last in both the 70- and 90-meter events, but his pluck won over the crowds which eventually warmed the hearts of the elitist establishment who were unhappy he was representing them at the Olympics.
But that’s classic ’80s! The underdog fighting against the man who’s trying to keep him down, man! Redemption in the form of getting demoralized former champion to dump the booze and get back on that horse!
Also present are the stock but necessary side characters, including fellow team members who look every bit like the standard bullies who populated the high schools of many a Hughes film, who always come around to respect our lovable protagonist in the end.
The location shots also helped take “Eddie the Eagle” up a notch. The filmmakers probably could have used green screen for that, but instead they shot the ski jumping competition in Germany, and you just can’t fake that kind of scenery.
Thankfully “Eddie the Eagle” also just barely crosses the PG-13 line, with nary a very offensive thing on screen, which allows the whole family to enjoy the journey. That’s good news considering the other offerings at the Cineplex these days.
Bronson (Hugh Jackman) and Eddie (Taron Egerton) hope for the best, while expecting the worst, in advance of Eddie’s next practice jump.