For broadcast networks to simply show the event — round after round, jump after jump, from 70- and 90-meter distances — they’d have to be willing to watch their ratings glide majestically downhill, too. So instead, they look for inspirational stories to package — and they got a doozy in Michael “Eddie” Edwards, a British ski jumper who finished dead last in both events at the 1988 Games in Calgary, but whooped and flapped as if he'd won the gold. Never much of a force in the Winter Games, the Brits had no tradition as a ski-jumping nation, which allowed Edwards to slip into
The Jamaican bobsled team also dazzled Calgary with its non-excellence that year, inspiring the Disney comedy Cool Runnings five years later. And now Edwards’ story has finally been packaged as Eddie the Eagle, which could be dubbed a Full Monty cash-in if it weren’t so late for that, too. A tacky embroidered sweater of a movie, Eddie the Eagle has the populist tone of those TV packages for the Olympics, only at 20 times the length and without Bob Costas’ narration. It tiptoes around the stickiest questions about Edwards’ legitimacy, invents a hard-drinking American coach out of whole cloth and covers most of its hero's athletic progress in a training montage set to Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams Come True.” Short of outfitting Edwards with a beer helmet as he careens down the in-run, the film’s commitment to broad feel-good-isms is absolute.
As Edwards, Taron Egerton is as crazily mannered and over-the-top as the nerd in
From the film’s perspective, there are only two types of people: those inspired by Edwards’ plucky resolve and the Finnish snobs or bureaucratic prigs who insist that he’s denigrating the sport. If there’s a reasonable position somewhere in the middle — the person who admires Edwards’ determination but respects the cruel meritocracy of athletic skill — Eddie the Eagle isn’t aware of it. The hero is a jumper-come-lately who’s dodging a future as a plastering apprentice; the villains are Olympians who have been honing their craft since the age of 6. Unless their stories are colorful, their achievements don’t matter. That’s true of primetime Olympics broadcasts — and of Eddie the Eagle.
Actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher, who previously made the Pretenders jukebox musical Sunshine on Leith, approaches the material with an uncomplicated exuberance that wears you down. Not a second of Eddie the Eagle rings true, but it goads the audience into guzzling its cheery platitudes anyway, like the shots the other athletes force on the teetotaling Edwards in Calgary. Did Edwards really learn proper aerial form through a Bo Derek sex fantasy? Did he really spend the Opening Ceremony passed out in a laundry bin? It’s tempting to imbibe every last drop of Fletcher’s noxious absinthe and get drunk on his tall tales of underdog achievement. But it won’t feel good in the morning.