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Posts Tagged ‘Eddie the Eagle’

Just when I thought we’d broken free from the clinging embrace of fact-based film after fact-based film, and were now contending with dozens of slightly dubious remakes and sequels, along comes yet another: Eddie the Eagle, directed by Dexter Fletcher (I remember him as a child actor in the likes of Bugsy Malone, The Long Good Friday and The Elephant Man, and look at him now).

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I also remember the story of Eddie the Eagle when it was actually news, although at the time (February 1988) I suspect I was slightly more interested in the first episode of Red Dwarf, which was broadcast around then. The story is… well, Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards went to the Calgary Olympics as the sole British ski-jumper, came a resounding last in both the 70m and 90m jump events, and yet somehow became a media celebrity and one of the biggest stories of the Games. This was the same Games that saw the even-more-unlikely appearance of a Jamaican bobsleigh team (Fletcher’s film alludes to this), who were the subject of a movie over 20 years ago, so once again you could argue that Eddie the Eagle has come a spectacular last.

The font of the movie’s title sequence is almost identical to that favoured by any number of cosy 70s British sitcoms, while the soundtrack comes as close as possible to copying that of Chariots of Fire without causing Vangelis to actually reach for his lawyer, and these two choices define the scope of the film’s ambition rather well. The credits inform us this is ‘based on the life of Eddie Edwards’, but I would argue this is pushing it a bit. Pushing it quite a lot, actually.

Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton, who to me sounds like a character from a badly-typed Terry Nation script, but I digress) grows up as an Olympics-obsessed lad somewhere in the UK (his parents have vaguely London-ish accents). Eventually becoming a fairly decent downhill skier, he is nevertheless not selected for the British Winter Olympic team, primarily (the film suggests) because he is not posh or handsome enough.

Never one to be easily deterred, Eddie yomps off to Germany to become the first British Olympic ski-jumper since the 1920s, although progress is limited and various arrogant Nordic types are unspeakably beastly to him about his efforts. He does, however, end up befriending the local groundskeeper, Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), whom he learns is actually a former champion ski-jumper who left the sport in disgrace some years earlier. Could it possibly be that together they will form a bond, that Eddie will rise to become a genuinely competent ski-jumper, and that he will go on to realise his dream of representing his country at the Olympics?

Well, like I say, based on a true story, although Edwards was actually born in Gloucestershire, failed to qualify for the downhill event in the 1984 Games based on his times not his background, learned to ski-jump in the US, not Germany, qualified after representing Britain in the 1987 World Championships… I could go on. You can almost hear the film creaking and grumbling as it is forced to include something factually true (Edwards’ successful career as a downhill skier), as it really cuts against its presentation of him as a loveable, well-meaning clown.

On the other hand, it makes up for this sole concession to reality by including Hugh Jackman’s character, who is as fictional as Puff the Magic Dragon, and it’s almost impossible not to conclude that both the character and Wolverine himself are both here in the hope it will help the film-makers get the film international distribution. Peary’s background and personality (I repeat: he is wholly made-up) comprise a significant chunk of the film’s storyline (a bemused-looking Christopher Walken plays his estranged mentor), which is kind of the final nail in the coffin of the idea that this film is in any way about the ‘real’ Eddie Edwards.

I mean, Egerton gives a committed and vanity-free performance, although it does seem to largely consist of his peering through coke-bottle glasses and sticking his chin out in a vaguely mournful fashion, but in terms of sheer presence and charisma he is effortlessly blown off the screen by Jackman, who spends most of the film in first gear. Say what you like about Jackman’s range as a performer (and I have in the past), but he is always very, very watchable, to the point where you want to see more of him and less of the putative star: the result is that Eddie Edwards seems rather like a supporting character in his own film.

And if you’re going to cast loose from the anchor of fact quite so enthusiastically as this film does, you’d better be doing it for a good reason – making it an all-out comedy, for instance. But the thing is that Eddie the Eagle is just not that funny, unless you find endless scenes of Egerton stuffing up his landings and cartwheeling down the slope to be comedy gold. It’s all just a bit too contrived, too broad, too obvious to work. Also, this film is a product of Matthew Vaughn’s company Marv. Last year Vaughn directed Kingsman, in which Taron Egerton played a working-class lad struggling to become a top spy, battling constantly against establishment prejudice, and the reverse snobbery of the film was astounding. Well, in this film, Taron Egerton plays a working-class lad struggling to become a top ski-jumper, battling constantly against establishment prejudice, and it’s exactly the same. It’s just too calculated and cartoonish to feel at all authentic – it’s simply manipulative.

Then again, this is a sports movie, and they’re all a bit the same, aren’t they? This one is mainly distinguished by the protagonist’s central challenge being not to triumph, but to simply not wind up killing himself – in the end, though, the structure of the movie is strong enough for it to function as a basic narrative. But that’s pretty much all it does. It barely qualifies as an actual bio-pic, so many liberties have been taken with the facts, but none of those changes actually help it work better as a comedy, or as a drama. In the end this film’s ambitions appear to be limited to just being a vaguely funny, allegedly heart-warming piece of quite simplistic entertainment, hanging off the hook of someone who retains a significant level of name-recognition some 28 years after his moment of glory. I would love to know what Eddie Edwards really thinks of the film with his name on it, but I suspect an NDA has been deployed. I only ended up watching this film through the wonders of my magic free-ticket card, which meant I basically didn’t feel like I was paying to watch it. In those circumstances, it seemed like an inoffensive, fairly competent film on its own terms. But I’m glad I didn’t spend money to see it.

 

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