Friday, 3 February 2017

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

There will always be an audience for 'feel-good' movies, although few of these manage to win major awards, unlike this year's over-hyped contender "La La Land". The cinema audience loves to root for plucky dreamers a la Rocky and Billy Elliot, especially when they ultimately win, but even when they lose, if they lose with style. Such is the heroic myth of Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards, Britain's lone competitor for a ski-jumping medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, a man who never stood a dewdrop's chance in hell of winning.

While based on a true-life story, this crowd-pleasing film is more fiction than fact, but does successfully convey the essence of Eddie's endeavour. A sickly and gangly child young Eddie always dreamt of Olympic glory, repeatedly running away from home (as far as the corner) when he thinks he has set a new World Record, for example holding his breath under water in the bath for a full 50 seconds. Unsporty and uncoordinated we see him failing spectacularly in his backyard at all the traditional Summer athletic events. Inspired, he fixes upon the idea that he might succeed at winter sports, since Britain has not entered the ski-jumping stakes since 1929. Even a poor showing could establish a new British record!

Actor Taron Egerton who made a showy mark in "Kingsman: The Secret Service" (2014) morphs seamlessly into the pudgy and homely body of young Eddie, who hies off to the Continent with his mother's nest-egg and his dad's 'borrowed' work van to pursue his dream. He hovers around the training grounds taking advice from various French and German racers and coaches, not understanding a word of what they are saying, before his persistence and foolhardy bravery pays off. He manages (after nearly breaking his neck) to convince Bronson Peary, a washed-up, disgraced, and usually drunk former jumper, played by Hugh Jackman, to oversee his preparations. The British Olympic Committee don't really want to know and set an improbable qualifying distance for him to meet. By a fluke he does manage to qualify and off to Calgary he goes -- and now we are all rooting for him.

He is treated as something of a joke by the Committee, his fellow team members, and the other real contenders, but the audience laughs with him, not at him -- we can not help but admire his bulldog spirit and his pluck. We cheer when he successfully manages the steepest of the jumps without killing or paralysing himself, even if he does finish in last place. The legend of Eddie the Eagle is born -- and remember that this is the same Olympics that lauded the efforts of the Jamaican bobsled team whose story was told in "Cool Runnings" (1993). Eddie is a loser who becomes a media darling.

The film is lovingly directed by Dexter Fletcher who was also responsible for "Sunshine on Leith", another ultimately feel-good movie with some dark undertones. The only other 'name' in the cast is Christopher Walken, playing Jackman's original mentor, in the very briefest of cameos. 

Eddie was able to 'dine off' his fame for some years. Even his father who pooh-poohed his dreams and who urged him to take up his own trade of plastering was cock-a-hoop on his son's triumphant return to Britain. But false fame does wane and guess what Eddie does now? He's a plasterer!   
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