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March 10, 2017

Eddie the Eagle

by Franz Patrick


Eddie the Eagle (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Dexter Fletcher’s “Eddie the Eagle,” about the first British ski-jumper who represented Great Britain during the 1988 Winter Olympics, is a feel-good biopic, certainly able to offer more than a handful enjoyable moments due to its enthusiastic lead performance, but one that is ultimately forgettable. The screenplay by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton fails to explore deeply enough into the mind and heart of the highly determined twenty-two-year-old Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) and so his failures and victories oftentimes come across superficial.

Perhaps the approach of not digging too deeply is a conscious choice. Maybe the goal is to tell Edwards’ story without the typical razzle-dazzle of ace biopics but tell it as simply and directly as possible. But an argument can be made that exactly because the story is not about winning medals but about a person who has always dreamed of becoming an Olympian, the filmmakers should have strived to make their work stand out.

Eddie is a highly relatable character because all his life just about everyone he knew at one point tried to convince him, explicitly and implicitly, to settle for a life that is ordinary. A potentially interesting character is Terry (Keith Allen), Eddie’s father, who tells his son that he should drop his dreams, learn to be practical, train to become a plasterer. We wonder why this is Terry’s attitude toward his only son but the material never answers our questions. As a result, during Terry’s change of heart at the latter end of the picture, the evolution comes across as forced and artificial. The sentimentality is cringe-worthy.

Even the story of Eddie’s coach, former ski-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), is undercooked and formulaic. The fallout between Bronson and his former coach, played by Christopher Walken, is quite uninteresting and whenever it becomes the focal point of the picture for a time, the momentum is slowed almost to a halt. Too many gaps of information are not filled in and we never quite see their entire story come together. Instead, Bronson is seen drinking a lot of alcohol to show he has become a failure. This is formulaic. There is no refreshing angle in terms of how Bronson’s past connects to his current coaching duty.

Always a joy to watch, however, is Egerton who fills the screen with overwhelming gusto. I wished he had reeled in a bit more when it comes to delivering exaggerated facial expressions—to his credit, the Olympian he is portraying does have such ticks—because there are instances when real emotions are overshadowed by such a depiction. Still, Egerton proves one scene after another that he knows how to perform and keep his character fresh even though the screenplay struggles at times to come up with novel elements to keep us thoroughly engaged.

“Eddie the Eagle” is worth seeing at least once for Egerton’s performance and the source material’s uplifting message, hence the marginal recommendation, even though there is nothing particularly memorable about the work. At one point in the film, there is a discussion about being willing to go all the way, to take necessary risks to attain a goal. Otherwise, why even bother trying. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken a bit of that advice in order to have made a stronger picture that undeniably makes its own mark.

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