Olympic ski jumping, that odd, skis-in-a-“V,” flying business. Unless you’re from a Nordic location, you see one jump—you’ve seen ’em all. Granted, it’s more interesting than the even odder, ice-scrubbing business that is Olympic curling, but much less interesting than America versus Russia Olympic ice-hockey, right?
Tell that to Eddie Edwards of Great Britain. Where there is no ski-jumping whatsoever. Eddie set the British national ski-jumping record in Calgary, ’88. He 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.
Eddie dreamed of Olympic glory since he was very little, starting with the venerable sport of Holding the Breath in the Bathtub. Following his very best breath-holding times, he’d pack his wee suitcase and march 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, of course!
Pole-vaulting (with a two-by-four) followed, then more track & field—disasters all— then skiing. He hadn’t quite found the right sport yet, you see.
This is all very much like the character of Toad (and his never-ending hobbies) in the children’s book, “Wind in the Willows,” with young Eddie sadly dropping one sport, only to immediately fall head-over-heels in love with another. Until, like Toad getting gob-smacked by the concept of motorcar driving, Eddie gets gob-smacked by ski-flying. “Poop-Poop!” (went the early 19th century automobile horn that beguiled Mr. Toad).
The Wrong Stuff
Problem was, young Eddie wasn’t too coordinated, wore thick glasses, and had weak knees that necessitated metal braces.
Having thoroughly annoyed the British Olympic Committee over the years with his over-achieving, under-talented enthusiasm, they’re not having Eddie on any team, no way, no how.
But the resourceful, persistent young man discovers a loophole: just like there were no other Jamaican bobsledders, there was no other British ski jumper. So all Eddie’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. Yes, 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 cliché 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.” It’s a job Jackman enjoys.
There are Rocky-like, clichéd training montages where you’ll roll your eyes, for sure. However, 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 might be slightly 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 their coffin—before they start 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, and clues us know-nothings 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 seriously dead meat.
Is He Insane?
Which brings us back to Eddie. What the heck? Take a wild guess what Eddie’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—Eddie has one of the best ugly duckling moments ever filmed.
Eddie endured years of ridicule and the trashing of his dreams at the hands of less courageous people. Finnish Matti Nykänen (Edvin Endre), greatest ski-jumping superstar of all time, acknowledges Eddie as an equal in spirit, riding the elevator together, saying lesser men don’t jump as they do, for the pure spirit of the thing. He says that they must both bring it, now, or never live it down.
Eddie has become a swan. It’s truly a beautiful moment. Equally beautiful is the elder blessing, post-jump, bestowed later by the great jump-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 on 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. Yes, it’s 100 percent predictable. 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 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 moronic?
No. Eddie’s not a moron. Eddie clearly had 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. Eddie 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 at this movie.
‘Eddie The Eagle’
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Cast: Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman, Christopher Walken, Jo Hartley, Tom McInnerny, Edvin Endre,
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Release Date: Feb. 26
Rated 3.5 stars out of 5