Heartfelt biopic Eddie the Eagle falls short of medal

Sports movies are tricky; go the stately, serious drama route and you get something like Chariots of Fire, Seabiscuit or Remember the Titans, which aren’t bad movies, especially if you’re looking to catch a quick nap the next time you fly, but they aren’t exactly barn burners either. Lay on the sports movie schmaltz a little too thick and you end up with well-intentioned pap like Miracle, The Rookie or the ham-fisted feature version of Friday Night Lights. But strike the right balance between drama, comedy, sports movie cliches and good old-fashioned, underdog-bucking-the-system awesomeness and you end up with something really special like Hoosiers, McFarland, USA or the granddaddy of them all, Rudy.

While the recent Eddie Edwards biopic Eddie the Eagle means well and has a lot of heart and some really great sports movie moments, sadly, Eddie is no Rudy. In fact, if they gave out Olympic medals for sports movies, Eddie would probably warrant one of those shiny participation medals they give the athletes just for showing up. That said, I still really enjoyed this warm, heartfelt little film and even teared up a few times, but when it was all over, I couldn’t help but wonder how much better Eddie might have been with a stronger director.

Based on the inspiring true life story of Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards who through a combination of pluck, drive and sheer determination became the unlikeliest of British ski jumpers at the Calgary Olympics in 1988, Eddie’s real ace in the hole is the true life story of Edwards himself. Unfortunately, since so much of Eddie the movie is fabricated from whole cloth by the film’s writers, Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton, the fascinating true story of one of the world’s favorite Olympic folk heroes gets lost along the way. I’m not saying biopics shouldn’t be able to stretch the truth a bit when they need to (hell, look how well it worked for The Imitation Game) but when you invent whole characters from scratch – as Macaulay and Kelton did with Hugh Jackman’s former Olympic-hopeful turned coach character and Christopher Walken’s fictional Olympic skiing guru Warren Sharp – you do run the risk of cheapening the source material. A lot. And, sadly, that happens more than a few times here. For instance, Jackman’s arc in Eddie is one of the best parts of the film and finding out later that none of it actually happened is a huge letdown, especially when so much of the factually accurate stuff they chose to leave in the movie is so good.

The other big problem with the film is the totally scattershot lead performance by Taron Egerton (Testament of Youth, Kingsman: The Secret Service) as Edwards. Never really comfortable in Edwards’ authentically weird, geeky skin, Egerton’s performance is so laden with strange tics, goofy expressions and an annoying ongoing bit with his glasses that he makes Daryl Hannah’s classic “pretty girl playing ugly” performance in Steel Magnolias’ look positively subtle. Simply put, the dashing young Egerton is terribly miscast as a goofy outsider and though he doesn’t ruin the film entirely, he certainly doesn’t do it any favors either.

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But at the end of the day, the real blame for Eddie’s less than medal-worthy performance falls squarely on the shoulders of the film’s director Dexter Fletcher (Sunshine on Leith, Wild Bill). After cutting his teeth as a go-to character actor for years in everything from Kick-Ass and Topsy-Turvy to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Fletcher does have an actorly knack for crafting a really great scene here and there, but his grasp of the big picture is a bit more slippery. What Eddie needed was a stronger narrative thrust and a whole lot more grit and authenticity, and, sadly, Fletcher is just not up to the task at hand.

Despite its flaws, however, Eddie is still a fun, charming indie comedy. And the best news for sports movie enthusiasts and fans of the real-life Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards is that even a lackluster retelling of his inspiring story of an average bloke making good on the world stage can’t stop the Eagle from soaring anew on film.

Now playing on select Air New Zealand, British Airways, Air India, and Emirates flights worldwide, Eddie The Eagle is also available via streaming at iTunes, Google Play and Amazon Video.