EDDIE THE EAGLE
*** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Dexter Fletcher
STARS Taron Egerton, Hugh Jackman
Taron Egerton and Hugh Jackman in Eddie the Eagle (Photo: Fox)
The "underdog sports movie" — if there's a sub-genre that doesn't need any more piling on, it would be this one. Yet for all its familiar trappings, Eddie the Eagle manages more often than not to escape that overbearing sense of been-there-done-that and emerge as a respectable movie in its own right.
That's a real surprise, considering this brand of story — the plucky nobody who unexpectedly excels at sports — has been with us since the days of silent cinema, when Harold Lloyd proved himself to be a gangly gridiron great in the uproarious 1925 comedy classic The Freshman. Here, the protagonist is the real-life Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards (Taron Egerton), a British lad who has been determined since an early age to become an Olympic star, despite the fact that he's an awkward individual lacking any discernible aptitude at sports. But he finally finds a niche of sorts as a skier, and to improve his odds of making it to the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, he elects to become a ski jumper since Britain hasn't even bothered entering one into competition in decades.
What makes Eddie the Eagle — the movie and the character — so endearing is the performance by Egerton, who broke through last year as novice spy Eggsy Unwin in Kingsman: The Secret Service. There, he was brainy and brawny; here, he's wimpy and gimpy. It's a remarkable acting about-face, and it will be interesting to see how much more this young actor can branch out. What's interesting about his character here is that Eddie's not an ugly duckling who blossoms into a swan — instead, he remains socially unpolished and seemingly ill-at-ease in his own body, an individual who succeeds through sheer willpower and a never-say-die attitude that's positively inspiring. Hugh Jackman is also on hand — he plays Eddie's boozy trainer (a fictional person created for narrative streamlining) — and he's fine in a role that never escapes its rigid pre-determined constraints. But it's Egerton, and Egerton alone, who allows the film to slip off its shackles of convention and fly like — what else? — an eagle.