There is no reason why Eddie the Eagle should work as well as it does. It’s corny, formulaic, and manipulative. Even worse, it’s proud to be all of these things. But at the same time, Eddie the Eagle is also heartfelt, inspirational, and joyous from beginning to end. These are all qualities that, when combined, result in a truly uplifting moviegoing experience.
Eddie the Eagle depicts the story of real-life Eddie Edwards’ journey from underestimated Olympic hopeful to actully competing in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Films in the sports genre tend to follow familiar narrative beats, and this one is no different. First we have a lead character who’s endlessly looked down upon and discouraged from pursuing his dreams. Eventually he takes a big risk and initially fails numerous times at the beginning. However, with enough passion and determination, he finally succeeds at his goal, winning the hearts of those who doubted him at the start. That’s essentially the entire movie right there, which more or less sounds like your average, standard sports movie.
But where Eddie the Eagle truly shines is that it hits all of these familiar narrative beats with such gusto that you can’t help but be swept up in the journey. Director Dexter Fletcher and stars Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman inject the film with so much sincerity and heart that only the most cynical of viewers will be left unconvinced of the film’s emotional climax.
But even more impressive is that you don’t end up simply tolerating the many genre clichés that the film shamelessly presents. Instead, the film encourages you to embrace and celebrate its numerous conventions because it reminds us that optimistic films still have a very important place in our lives.
There are many elements in the film that make it work so well. In particular, the chemistry between actors Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman is a huge cornerstone of the entire film. Contrasting the naïve determination of Egerton’s character with the cynical weariness of Jackman results in a compelling dynamic that raises both characters above their simplistic arcs. Egerton in particular is a joy to watch as Eddie. He plays Eddie’s stubbornness and wide-eyed optimism in a way that makes him feel authentic instead of cartoonishly sentimental, which is a trait that the film could’ve easily fallen into in the hands of a lesser actor.
But most importantly, Eddie is not merely a likeable character in the film. He’s completely endearing, which is his most important trait because the real-life Eddie Edwards was a media sensation during the 1988 Winter Olympics due to his sheer charm and enthusiasm alone. This is actually the most important aspect of the entire story and why the film was made in the first place. Eddie Edwards placed dead last in both ski jumps that he made in the Olympics, as the film accurately depicts. He didn’t become known because he was a particularly exceptional ski jumper. He became famous because of his irresistible charm, which won over so many people. He was loved for his infectious joy at simply being a part of the Olympics. All of this was executed beautifully in the film in large part because of Taron Egerton’s performance, who absolutely excels at being endearing in the film. It’s often said that acting in a drama is easy and comedy is hard, but playing an inspirational, loveable character is possibly the hardest of all.
Another element that makes the film such a joy to watch is its distinctly 80’s soundtrack and score. A lot of film scores have a tendency to go unnoticed in the background, but Eddie the Eagle’s synth music takes front and center, emphasizing not just the film’s time period but its emotional highs and lows as well. Not wanting to settle by just looking like it was set in the 80’s, Eddie the Eagle also looks and sounds like the movie itself was made during this time period.
I’m not sure if I’ve managed to overlook numerous feel-good movies like Eddie the Eagle over the past few years because this one feels like a breath of fresh air. Watching it made me distinctly wonder when was the last time I’ve seen a film released recently that has made me genuinely feel as joyous and upbeat as this one did. There are many movies that have entertained me and made me laugh, but to feel actual joy is a pretty rare filmgoing experience. I won’t go as far as saying that cinema has lately been overtaken by dark, serious, and heavy films, but it’s definitely telling that Eddie the Eagle manages to shine so bright amidst the cinematic landscape.
Maybe all it takes is for one disappointing element to make this film go from being an emotional, crowd-pleasing triumph to a dull, saccharine experience. Perhaps if the writing was just a tiny bit worse, or if the direction was inconsistent, or if the performances were unremarkable, Eddie the Eagle would’ve been another forgettable sports movie. Fortunately that wasn’t the case as Eddie the Eagle is proof that traditional, feel-good films, when done right, can be just as rewarding as original films that break the rules and take risks.