Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Eddie the Eagle

Alternate Title:  I Believe I Can Fly...

One sentence synopsis:    A hapless, would-be British Olympian decides to become a ski-jumper, the first for Britain in 70 years.

Things Havoc liked:Those of you who remember my list of the best films of 2015 (which was not that long ago), will remember the movie Kingsman, the Secret Service, which was a demented, insane, bloodfest of a Matthew Vaughn movie which I adored to a degree that probably speaks poorly of my general character. Among the many, many virtues that Kingsman had was its lead actor, an unknown (to me) young man named Taron Egerton (who, I kid you not, grew up in a Welsh town called Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch). Egerton was absolutely fantastic in a role that should, by rights, have been insufferable, and has since garnered other awards for roles in movies I did not see such as Testament of Youth and Legend. I'm an actor's critic, as you all well know, so when a good young actor shows up, I like to track their career throughout the project, and lo and behold, his next film was, of all things, a feel-good sports movie about one of my favorite people of all time.

For those who do not know, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards, was an Olympic Ski Jumper from Great Britain notable for being bereft of any shred of Olympic-grade talent for the sport, who nonetheless contrived (due to the fact that there were no other Ski Jumpers from his home country) to make it to the 1988 Calgary Olympics, which also played host to the Jamaican Bobsled team from Cool Runnings. Edwards had no particular aptitude for the sport of Ski Jumping (or for sport in general), but competed nonetheless, becoming a fan favorite on the back of his utter haplessness, self-effacing humor, and British Daring-Do. The role is a far cry from that of Egsy, from the aforementioned Kingsman, but Egerton is once again spot on with it, playing a particularly British type of myopic nerd, who dreams of becoming an Olympian and cares very little for what he has to do to get there, even if it means making a complete fool of himself, and sustaining the horrific bodily injuries that come with failing at a sport like Ski Jumping. These injuries are not minor, as we see in the best line in the film, where Eddie's coach watches with him as another ski jumper shatters every bone in his body while failing a moderate-sized jump, and then leans in to the horrified Eddie to comment "And he knew what he was doing..."

Ah, but the coach is very important in movies like this, isn't he, and Eddie the Eagle's coach is the, far as I can tell fictional, Bronson Peary, played by everyone's favorite wolverine, Hugh Jackman. Jackman is a sardonic, alcoholic bastard, in the wonderful style of these movies since time immemorial, who must gradually warm up to Eddie's innocent-if-ungainly earnestness. It's an old story for a sports movie, yeah, but Jackman has fun with it, gargling booze from everything in sight and seemingly growing to relish the opportunity to troll the entire establishment of Ski Jumping (which apparently exists) with an athlete who is not an athlete by any definition of the word. Long-time character actor and first-time director Dexter Fletcher (of Band of Brothers and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels), takes on the director's chair with a style that seems to play around with the conventions of the sporting movie a bit, from comical overuse of slow-motion-uplifting-music shots to a truly trippy set of scenes involving the so-called "Flying Finn", Matti Nykänen, who rambles semi-coherently about the philosophical "meaning" of ski jumping like a cross between George Mallory and The Dude.

Things Havoc disliked: Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is all stock sports cliches, and not just that, but practically a re-tread of the aforementioned Cool Runnings. We have everything here, from the team of blond, blue-eyed, Nordic winter athletes (Norwegians, this time), who inexplicably hate our hero and resent his presence in the Olympics, to the fussy, over-proper British bureaucrats determined to prevent Eddie from doing anything so tremendously unorthodox (HARUMPH!) as competing in the Olympics. One of them even goes so far as to deliver a sneering, twirl-of-the-mustache remark about how the Olympics are not for amateurs, and how people with dreams should have them dashed so as to preserve propriety. Eddie, meanwhile, also has to deal with his father, a working-class plasterer who regards his sporting dreams as irrelevant, and who refuses to support him. Will Eddie's dad see the light in time for the big jump? Might he share a knowing nod with his son while acknowledging that he was right to follow his dreams all along? Perish the thought that I should spoil such mysteries of existence to you, but if you've seen a single film in the last thirty years, I have a feeling you'll work it out for yourself. Fletcher seems to have decided that the best way to make his movie would be to take all four of the plotlines that the four main characters in Cool Runnings had and merge them together into one, which is not precisely the decision I would have made. The result is a movie with a schmaltz and saccharine level that is high enough to carry a diabetes warning.

I also question what in the world several of the more prominent actors who lent their names to this film were thinking beyond the need for another paycheck. The wonderful Jim Broadbent is barely in the film at all, with maybe three minutes of screentime tops as the British broadcaster for the games, a role which requires him to do very little. He does, however, manage to do more than Christopher Walken, who somehow earned himself third billing in the movie for a total of roughly forty-five seconds of screentime, playing (in another nod to Cool Runnings) Jackman's former coach from his own days as a ski jumper, who is terminally disappointed in his once-promising pupil, and regards him as having embarrassed himself and his sport in fostering Eddie. As before, I shall refrain from revealing whether or not this ends with a tearful reunion at the end where bygones are allowed to be bygones and the former student is finally acknowledged by the master who once despaired of him, but I shall rely on the good judgment of all of my readers to determine what they think might come of all this.

Final thoughts:     Eddie the Eagle is a perfectly harmless movie in the style of a hundred other sports films, livened by a couple of good performances and the novelty of its source material, but required viewing by all fans of cinema it is definitely not. What you as a viewer are likely to get out of the film is going to be highly dependent on your tolerance for schmaltz, as well as your ability to excuse the fact that a film's plot is one you've seen many, many times before. I will confess to having enjoyed it, not as a masterpiece or a great work of art, but as a fun little story told reasonably well by a couple of actors I just like watching. There have been worse excuses for movies made.

Final Score:  6.5/10

Next Time:  The Fox and the... Meter-maid?

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