Eddie the Eagle sneaks up on you. Sure, it’s got all the classic trappings of a clichéd, watered down, oversaturated underdog sports movie. It relishes in its cheesy, squeaky-clean intentions, and —at its worst — it feels downright patronizing in its crowd-pleasing tendencies. But as plucky and unwavering as its spunky little true-life lead, there’s an unabashed sincerity about it all.
For as much as it mimics the lost art of hokey sports films popularized (and eventually heavily satirized) throughout the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, all without adding anything new to the equation, it’s a genuinely pleasing picture. It’s a gentle, warm heart sleeper with a big heart, and a goofy grin on its face, that’s hard not to be swept up by. It might have a lot of obstacles in its way, but it jumps over them with aplomb. It doesn’t take the top prize, but in its own right, it’s a winner.
On paper, the newest film from actor-turned-director Dexter Fletcher comes across like a series of checkpoints from the How to Make a Generic Sports Movie manual: A little boy overcoming some Forrest Gump-level leg braces to live out his dreams as an Olympic skier? Check. A main titular character (Taron Egerton) defined by his awkward behavior, dorky glasses and oddball persistence — to the point where he doesn’t feel connected to reality in any real meaningful way? You got it. A begrudging father (Keith Allen) who doesn’t think his son’s near-impossible ambitions should get in the way of his working class destiny? Sure thing. A focus on an unpopular sport — in this case, ski jumping — to make the formula feel just a wee bit fresh? Yeppers. A washed-up former athlete (Hugh Jackman) with a permeant flask in his hand who comes around to coach our well-meaning hero? Of course. Some stuffy board members who make following through on such dreams a living nightmare? Uh-huh. A sports montage or two? Cue up the Hall and Oates, please. And some wacky sports commentators — including one played by Jim Broadbent —along the way for some spice? Practically a necessity, really.
The similarities Eddie the Eagle shares to many, many films before it — both good and bad — are almost countless. Comparisons to Cool Runnings are basically inevitable, even downright invited at times. If you’re paying attention, the first Jamaican bobsled team gets a little side mention as well. There’s also some Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo in its veins too, not to mention some Slap Shot and The Mighty Ducks swimming around in there somewhere. It sounds like a collusion course in predictable, sterile territory, an absolute nightmare in tired tropes and uninspired dreck, doesn’t it? That’s what you’d think —yet, somehow, it isn’t.
Okay, I’m not going to lie to you: it kinda is. I’m not saying this movie tries anything original by any stretch of the imagination. But to criticize it for its lack of authenticity and groundbreaking material would be completely missing the point. From conception until its final product, Eddie the Eagle is destined as a loving, swelling tribute to the kind of sports film of its era, a film Eddie himself would want to see and would happily cheer along with alongside the rest of the audience. It’s a straight-faced throwback feature in every which way. It’s never afraid of its sentimentality or plain-faced idealism, and not unaware of how trite it might end up in the process It’s got a big old twinkle in its eye for the sports comedy of old, and it never takes a moment to make fun of the genre or lampoon its misguided sincerity. It’s earnest in all the right ways, and with some fantastic performances from Egerton and Jackman, it all comes together in one finely graced swoop.
I feel as though I need to defend myself for liking Eddie the Eagle, but I don’t really see why. Does it all ring a little false? Absolutely. Does it play safe to a fault, to the point where it seems to pander to its audience? I’d be hard-pressed not to say so. Its greatest disadvantage is, for a movie about defying the odds and towering to greatness, it seems content to do things exactly as they’ve been done before. But at the same time, it knows exactly what it wants to be, and is as dead-set as Eddie to make it come alive in that exact, specific way.
So it’s a bit of a toss-up, I suppose. Eddie the Eagle appeals to a specific audience at times, but it knows exactly what it’s doing and it’s not unsuccessful in its low-grade ambitions. And it’s an easy one to watch too. It’s a feel-good movie that actually makes you feel good, and what this glazed donut of a movie might lack in nutritional value, it most definitely makes up for in unfiltered sugary sweetness. Even when it cloys to its fullest, it’s massively appealing. For as much as it plays its viewers like a fiddle, it’s a sax-heavy tune you don’t mind dancing to.
Its conventionalism plays as its greatest strength and weakness, but nevertheless, it’s a perfectly admirable little production. It’s just another success for producer Matthew Vaughn, proving once and for all that his Kingsman star Edgerton is the real deal, and demonstrating Jackman’s range go beyond his Wolverine claws and singing chops. It’s a compassionate bleeding heart of a movie, not likely to become a classic but very likely to win people over where it plays. And don’t be surprised if you’re one of them. Don’t fight it either. In short, Eddie the Eagle is worthy contender for all the right reasons. And though it doesn’t necessarily soar, it flies high enough to stick the landing on the way down.