I found it impossible to hate Eddie the Eagle, even though I probably should have.
It's just about the most clichéd sports movie you could think of — with an underdog who longs to do something great and a grizzled coach who's seen better days. It even ends on a freeze frame, for God's sake.
But in telling the true story of the British ski jumper who galvanized popular opinion at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics, Eddie the Eagle fits snugly into one of my favorite sports movie subgenres — films about how sometimes losing is better, if it means that you stay true to your own moral code.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards will know he wasn't very good at ski jumping — and that's part of what made him so beloved. But Eddie the Eagle will make you care, at least somewhat, about the man's quest to compete in the Olympics, only so he can finish last, because everybody involved seems to be having a ball.
Eddie isn't anywhere near, say, Chariots of Fire or the sadly forgotten (and totally great) '90s golf comedy Tin Cup when it comes to great sports movies about how being true to yourself is more important than winning. But it's got charm to spare, and, more importantly, it feels like it emerged from a 1980s time capsule. Here's why you should watch — and why you shouldn't.
You should see Eddie the Eagle because it will remind you of why you love formulaic movies
Formulas become formulas for a reason. There's something satisfying about knowing exactly where a story is headed, especially if all the key players are committed to their roles.
Such is the case with Eddie. As the Eagle himself, Taron Egerton (so great in Kingsman) is all mouth-agape wonder and doofy affability. And as his coach, Hugh Jackman reminds you of just how winning he can be. Elsewhere, the film is crammed full of fun character actors, right down to a somewhat nonsensical cameo from Christopher Walken that feels as if it's wrapping up a plot mostly left on the cutting room floor.
Meanwhile, director Dexter Fletcher is mostly in sync. The sequences when Eddie is trying to learn how to stick his landings — and falling a lot — nicely capture the sheer terror of flying off a ramp and plummeting toward the snow below. Fletcher doesn't try to reinvent the wheel here, but he keeps things moving at a steady clip and allows the big emotional moments room to breathe. He even almost lands the difficult moment where the parent who disapproves of a child's dreams comes around in the end.
The film is an enjoyable blast of '80s cheese, from its embrace of the era's fashions to the synth-heavy score to the training montages that recall the goofiest moments of the Rocky franchise. These characteristics won't be a plus to everyone, but for those who enjoy the earnestness of the homage, they should work beautifully.
Finally, Eddie the Eagle is just a nice family movie. It contains very little objectionable content for even the youngest of kids, and it sends a nice message about how sometimes the struggle is more important than victory. So many movies for the whole family try too hard to prove they've still got edge; Eddie the Eagle is content to be corny, and that's refreshing.
You shouldn't see Eddie the Eagle because, well, it's a formulaic movie
You can probably guess roughly 85 percent of this movie's plot beats simply by knowing it's about an underdog ski jumper who wants to compete in the Olympics — and if you know anything about the titular character at all (or have read his Wikipedia page), you can fill in the other 15 percent.
There's nothing wrong with this — again, formula can be fun. But the best formulaic movies offer something beyond the sheer comfort of a familiar story well told. They feature sparkling scripts or great performances, or they take a chance somewhere with their story. (See again: Tin Cup, which boasts one of my favorite unexpected endings of its era, or Creed, which takes the bones of the Rocky formula and reinvents them with stunning direction and acting.)
Eddie is competent on all levels. It's a perfect movie to see during a family outing when you need something that will at least mildly entertain everybody. But it doesn't do anything unexpected. In some ways, that safeness is a virtue, but Eddie is the kind of film that evaporates from memory about five minutes after you leave the theater, crowded out by all the better variations of its story that you've seen.
The final verdict
Should you see Eddie the Eagle? Sure, especially if you like sports movies. The cast is solid, if not spectacular, and the story moves briskly. Plus, since there are no Winter Olympics this year, it's your best shot at seeing people fly through the air on skis — even if some of the jumps are poorly handled computer effects.