Olympic ski jumping. That insane, skis-in-a-“V” flying business. Unless you hail from Scandinavia, you see one jump, you’ve seen ’em all. Granted, it’s far more interesting than the even odder, ice-scrubbing-with-brooms business of Olympic curling. But we can probably all agree that it’s far less interesting than America versus Russia Olympic ice hockey, right?
Tell that to Michael Edwards of Great Britain. Where there is no ski jumping whatsoever. He set the British national ski-jumping record in Calgary ’88. Michael had a dream more glorious than the collective naysayers in all the length and breadth of Merry England! “Eddie the Eagle” is his story, and like “Cool Runnings” (about the Jamaican bobsled team), it’s a hilarious concept and a wonderful story for all ages.
Must. Be. An. Olympian.
Michael dreamed of Olympic glory since he was a wee lad, starting with the venerable sport of Holding the Breath in the Bathtub. After setting a new breath-holding record, Michael’d pack his tiny suitcase and go marching down to the bus station. “Where are you going at 10 o’clock at night?” his exasperated pop (a professional plasterer) wants to know? To the Olympics, naturally.
Breath holding was followed by pole vaulting (with a two-by-four pole), then more track & field (disasters all), and then skiing. Young Michael hadn’t quite found the right sport yet, you see.
This is all very much like the character of Mr. Toad and his never-ending hobbies in the children’s book “The Wind in the Willows,” with Michael sadly discontinuing one sport, only to immediately fall head over heels for another. Until, like Toad getting completely gobsmacked by the concept of motorcar driving (“Poop-Poop!!” went the early 19th-century automobile horn that beguiled him), Michael gets gobsmacked by ski flying.
The Wrong Stuff
Problem was, Michael wasn’t too coordinated. He wore thick glasses and had weak knees that necessitated metal braces. The British Olympic Committee, thoroughly annoyed and underwhelmed from years of Michael’s overachieving and undertalented enthusiasm, is not having him on any team. No way, no how.
But the resourceful, persistent young man discovers a loophole! Just like there were no other Jamaican bobsledders besides that one hapless team, there was also no other British ski jumper. So all Michael’s gotta do is nail one jump and he’s in. He’d be set to become the only British ski jumper in the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.
“Eddie” is a Hero’s Journey if there ever was one, and when he meets his mentor—it’s Wolverine. Hugh Jackman plays Bronson Peary, formerly the sharpest jump student in renowned Warren Sharp’s (Christopher Walken) U.S. Olympic team.
Yes, it’s the thoroughly clichéd story of the down-but-not-quite-out former superstar with an ever-present bourbon flask, who got kicked off the team for rebellious rule flaunting and bodily disregard by way of booze. It’s the same role Jackman had in “Real Steel.” And Wolverine is not an alcoholic, but not for lack of trying. It’s a character Jackman portrays well.
There are “Rocky”-like, clichéd training montages where you’ll roll your eyes. Especially when these culminate in a scene where Jackman demonstrates the essence of jumping by doing a Wolverine version of Meg Ryan’s restaurant scene in “When Harry Met Sally.”
It’s a bit cringe-worthy, but all this training (and this movie) functions as Olympic Ski Jumping Appreciation 101, and you’ll never watch that event on TV the same way again.
You’ll also never watch it that way again because of the monster ramps. Ever take a good look at those things? We never get the proper perspective on a little TV screen.
There are four siblings of ramp: the baby 15-meter, the already extremely scary 40-meter, the assured, extended hospital stay should you mess up even slightly on the 70-meter, and the one for which they start measuring anyone who’s not a stone-cold pro for a pine box before he starts the ascent to the top of the 90-meter.
Part of what makes this film work is that director Fletcher puts the perspective on these shock-and-awe-inspiring ramps. He clues us, the uninitiated, into just how Achtung! Verboten! Lebensgefahr! dangerous this sport is, and the depths of commitment it takes to be a player in this deadly game. Basically, if you don’t start learning the sport at age 6—you’re gonna die.
Is He Insane?
Which brings us back to Michael. What the heck? Take a wild guess what Michael’s preparation status is for the Olympic big-boy ramp? And this is a true story.
The film’s best moment comes at the top of the world, riding the elevator up to the vertigo-inducing 90-meter death fall: Michael undergoes one of the best ugly duckling transformations ever.
Michael endured years of ridicule and the trashing of his dreams at the hands of less courageous people. Riding the elevator together, superstar Matti Nykanen (Edvin Endre) from Finland, the greatest ski jumper of all time, acknowledges Michael as an equal in spirit, saying that lesser men don’t jump as they do—for the pure spirit of the thing. He challenges Michael and himself, encouraging them both, that they must both bring it now or never live it down.
Michael becomes a swan before our very eyes. It’s truly a beautiful moment. Equally beautiful is the post-jump elder blessing bestowed by the great coach Warren Sharp upon his prodigal son, Bronson Peary, the Eagle trainer.
A Tremendous Lesson
Yes, it’s corny. Yes, Taron Egerton is a tad over-the-top in his characterization. Although … maybe not, when you take a look at the real Eddie.
Yes, it’s got slightly cheesy, ’80s synth-pop in the score, and it’s 100 percent predictable. But you know what? The adult take, that predictability is a bad thing—is overrated. This is ultimately a kids’ movie, and kids thrive on predictability. Kids never tire of the stories that tell them how best to comport themselves in life.
One could speculate that this movie might give kids the wrong idea about valor and courage, seeing this stuff—this, this, this—flinging oneself, willy-nilly, off precipices. The multiple, body-wrecking, body slams of it all! Is it courageous? Or is it maybe moronic?
Nope. Michael’s not a moron. Michael clearly had a vision and a mission. He set the British national ski-jumping record. Only him. In whole wide universe. And his tale was to be told to inspire us all. And underneath such a tremendous thing as that, there’s a deep faith that all will be well.
Michael went to meet his Maker on every try. And his Maker took care of him. As did his dear mum. One of the best screen mums ever. Very wonderful for children. I don’t care who you are, everyone cries watching “Eddie the Eagle.”
‘Eddie The Eagle’
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Starring: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Tim McInnerny, Edvin Endre, Jo Hartley, Keith Allen
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 26, 2016
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5