Eddie The Eagle tells the story of Michael Edwards, Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper and quite possibly a man who’s never had a single sad thought in his head. This guy seems to run on a constant euphoric rush. Nothing brings him down. Nothing ruins his hopes. When he trips over wooden hurdles and breaks his glasses, he buys a new pair. When he needs cash and transport to Austria to compete in Olympic qualifying rounds, he commandeers his dad’s van and makes off with his parents’ savings. This is a man who pushes, pushes, pushes. Sadly he’s stuck in a film that drones, drones, drones.
The movie hinges on the performance of Taron Egerton, who is illuminated and overcome by a kind of childlike determination. He makes Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards shine, not particularly as a horrible ski jumper, but as a cheerful kid who is simply in awe of the sport he loves, and of the world as it is. Every new person he meets is a carrier of good, until some of them deliberately throw him to the dogs. He is a beacon of optimism in a world that has been preordained by the screenplay to deflate him at every possible turn.
Outside of this man, however, we learn almost nothing else. Eddie The Eagle hits all the beats of your average sports biopic, almost in religious chronological order. Want a realist dad who keeps pushing his son to become a plasterer instead of a failed athlete? Check. Want a mum who dotes and encourages unconditionally? Check. Want a coach who has the unbeatable line: You’ll never be Olympic material? Check. How about the alcoholic washed-up has-been who was once the best ski jumper in the world and later guilt trips himself to become the kid’s new coach? Double, triple, quadruple check. Added drama of barely qualifying for the Olympics and then having the result overturned? Yup, you got it. The movie never lifts off the way Eddie does. It never breaks free of suffocating shackles. It is always, from start to finish, following a strict routine of obstacles and setbacks that Eddie must eventually overcome.
Oh there’s fun to be had as Eddie attempts to overcome them — the musical soundtrack is laced with wonky synthesised melodies that seem stolen away from some ’80s teenager’s Moog — but it’s not enough. There’s no punch. No flair. Egerton rises above the material as Eddie, who grows up believing he is destined to compete in the Olympics, first as a ski racer and then as a jumper. His parents, played by Jo Hartley and Keith Allen, are funny in a sitcom kinda way; his dad is constantly harping about his son’s delusions and beckons him to the construction yard where tonnes of plaster wait to be plastered. Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, the ski jumping prodigy who decided life was better spent in women’s pants and empty whiskey bottles. And none of it is all that fascinating.
A story like this deserves more than just a nostalgic soundtrack and calculated hurdles. It needs personality. A character to match Eddie Edwards. Eddie looked nothing like a hero. His glasses were too big by half. His chin protruded like an iceberg. His hair was scraggly and matted. He hunched, gave awkward side glances, and never fit in. Why, then, does the movie propel him to be one? Why can’t it behave like Eddie — socially misshapen and uncool? Maybe then we’d see him as a hero, one truly in touch with his inner nerd.