“Eddie the Eagle” is lucky it has such strange but inspiring source material to work with.
The film tells the real story of Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton, “Kingsman: The Secret Service”), an Olympic ski jumper who competed in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Unathletic his entire life, Edwards has fantasized of one day competing in the Olympics. He finds a loophole for this dream to exist when he comes across the exclusive, high-intensity sport of ski jumping. After beginning his uninformed training in Germany, much to the chagrin of his parents and other jumpers, Edwards meets washed-up American jumping star Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman, “X-Men”), who reluctantly agrees to train him to make his dreams reality.
The plot has wonderful movie-making potential, but that’s one of the few things the film has going for it. The great premise, though, grants the filmmakers enough confidence to hurl the script, acting, pacing and visuals into the air as haphazardly as Edwards on his first bumbling 70-meter jumps. From beginning to end, Edwards’s character presents as little more than an optimistic, thumbs-up of a person, despite the script’s attempts to force depth from him in his single-minded determination to compete. In a strangely paced opening sequence, we see Edwards growing up without any natural athletic ability, even walking with leg braces as a child, his desire to one day be recognized as a great athlete leading him bravely forward in all tasks he takes on. Although these moments provide perfect material for an uplifting story about willpower and confidence, it appears the screenwriters recognized the importance of these details all too well. Instead of crafting the plot with careful restraint, the script makes unexpected, hairpin turns from sentimental to sappy and cheapens the story overall.
If the pacing of the plot wasn’t done exactly right, however, it would seem the film would at least focus on visual perfection. Ski jumping is, after all, a stunning sport, and the picturesque Alps backdrop provides plenty of opportunities for cinematic glitz. Again, though, the film recognizes the importance of this element and tosses itself a few sky-high meters too far. For many of Eddie’s jumps, when we are focused in a head-on shot of his face racing down the ramp, his expressions become laughable instead of inspiring, producing a ridiculous portraiture of the feat he is attempting to accomplish. Although we do get a unique perspective of the events, much of the film’s cinematic potential is lost on an audience who could easily be won over by the stunning visuals inherent in the premise.
It’s understandable that the film doesn’t take on this story with too great an opinion of itself, or with too inflated of an ego to turn a strange, coincidental narrative into something larger than it is. Eddie’s drive is one of pure, good-natured, innocent excitement over the Olympics, and the lighthearted tone the film uses to encapsulate this story is headed in the right direction. I’m not saying there’s fault in choosing the more colorful, fun route when telling an admittedly engaging story. However, the film’s floundering comes from its actual inability to choose a side to tell this story from, and its haywire zig-zagging between serious and gimmicky. There is little room for a solemn moment of bravery or integrity when the character has spent almost an hour existing primarily as a bumbling, pitiable plot device, and little room for good humor when this plot device seems to be taken advantage of by the equally one-note characters that surround him. In an effort to make a simple, engrossing story simultaneously uplifting and easygoing, the film falls awkwardly somewhere in the middle, barely making it off the ramp its premise had so easily built up.