Friday, January 29, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

There's a good reason sports stories tend to work well at the movies: no matter how many times you see the same basic formula play out, it's always inspiring to watch an underdog triumph over incredible odds. Despite being perhaps the most predictable distillation of this formula of the past thirty yearsEddie the Eagle hits all the right beats; while occasionally veering into cheesy territory, this based-on-a-true-story genre entry is a largely satisfying crowd-pleaser.

Eddie The Eagle
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman

In the hospital with a busted knee, young Eddie Edwards develops a singular dream: he wants to be an Olympian. He spends his childhood trying all manner of sports in order to find the one that will allow him his shot at glory, and eventually discovers he's pretty good at downhill skiing. But he's too clumsy for the coach's liking, so after getting booted from the team and coming close to giving up entirely, he realizes that ski jumping may be his ticket to the 1988 games in Calgary. The British don't have a ski jumping team, so all he has to do is qualify and he'll automatically be invited to the big show. The only problem, of course, is that he's never ski jumped before in his life. Against his comically gruff father's wishes, but with the backing of his supportive mother, Eddie travels to Germany to practice and meets disgraced former U.S. ski jumper Bronson Peary, now a drunk who drives a snow plow to clean up the course. As you would expect in a film like this, their unlikely friendship turns into a mentorship, and their quest begins.

Taron Egerton trades all of the swagger and sophistication from Kingsman for a geeky persona here, perpetually pushing his thick glasses up his nose and adopting a constant underbite to the point where he's almost unrecognizable as the stylish spy he played last year. He's very good as Eddie, giving the character a determination that's the backbone of the movie, and I wouldn't be remotely surprised to see him start popping up on lists of the best sports movie underdogs in the months and years to come. Hugh Jackman is a walking cliche as Bronson Peary, but he's so charismatic and fun to watch that he mostly overcomes his character's limitations by sheer force of personality.

This film doesn't know the meaning of the word "subtlety" — the sneering Norwegian skiers who might as well be the Russian from Rocky IV and the ridiculously on-the-nose soundtrack (Van Halen's "Jump" plays during a key moment) are just two examples that instantly come to mind, but the film is littered with them. But it's a testament to the film that it somehow works in spite of these aspects (along with some dodgy CGI and green screen work).

Leaning so hard on underdog sports movie tropes that it's sometimes unintentionally hilarious, Eddie the Eagle is engineered to garner a specific response from its audience. But even though I was aware of director Dexter Fletcher's skillful manipulation as it was happening, the power of the formula briefly overtook my powers of critical thinking and I admittedly got caught up in the final moments. While most of us will never be able to relate to sliding at 70 mph down a ramp while strapped into a pair of skis, we can all relate to the idea of proving doubters wrong.

Pro tip: listen closely to the voices that sing the '80s-inspired song that plays over the credits. I found out after the movie that it's actually Egerton and Jackman singing, and I wish I would have known that beforehand.

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