Eddie the Eagle is a story so heartwarmingly Disney-tastic you'd think it were produced by Kleenex. In truth, it wasn't even produced by Disney. But with a soundtrack of saccharine '80s pop-rock hits and a resounding endorsement of can-do spirit in the face of insurmountable odds (plus Jim Broadbent as an Olympic announcer), you'll exit the movie theater, having high-fived those in the vicinity and cheered aloud, feeling buoyant and brave.
It's the true story of a Forrest Gump-y blue-collar British kid with Olympic dreams. Played by Taron Egerton (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Eddie Edwards was a fragile-boned kid who wore leg braces since birth. Even without the braces and the huge glasses, he'd be the antithesis of cool. Egerton was cast as the London street kid turned secret agent in Kingsman, and at first he seems to be overplaying Edwards' goofy underbite and autism-scale sincerity here. But when you see images of the real Edwards, in the closing credits, you're startled by the resemblance.
You wonder, like Eddie's naysayers in the film do, how on earth that guy made it to the Olympic Games.
If you ask screenwriters Sean Macauley and Simon Kelton, or director Dexter Fletcher (a British actor who also directed 2010's Wild Bill and 2013's Sunshine on Leith) the answer is: by sheer force of will, and Hugh Jackman.
Eddie turns to ski jumping after training for years to make the British downhill ski team. He's rejected because he's not what the British Olympic Committee wants to project on a world stage. Undeterred, Eddie travels to Germany to learn how to ski jump in a matter of months. There, he receives reluctant pointers from a washed-up American ski jumper (Hugh Jackman) who's now a groundskeeper for the training facility. Jackman's Bronson Peary is Eddie's opposite: all natural talent, but no respect for the game. When Eddie suffers a nasty fall, Peary sees in the young Brit a gemlike resolve he never had and vows to help him qualify for the '88 Calgary Winter Games. Cue the Hall & Oates training montage!
As the movie says explicitly, Eddie's story is a pure embodiment of the Olympic spirit. Because, after all:
"The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle." — Pierre de Coubertin, father of the Olympics.
The movie is not without its pitfalls. Ski jumping's a tough sport to capture visually. A jump begins and ends in a matter of seconds, and without endless slo-mo, how do you communicate climactic moments? Closeups of Eddie's face as he careens down the 70-meter track eliminate the scope and spectacle of the event; and the falls, when they arrive, early and often, are all CGI. Eddie's parents play like parodies — the overly supportive mother, the one-note father who thinks his son's dreams are a joke (wanna bet if he changes his mind?). And peripheral characters, Christopher Walken among them, arrive only, it would seem, to have their first impressions invalidated. As a movie, it's far more interested in being uplifting than it is with probing the nuances of individual characters.
The film is rated PG-13 "for some suggestive material." Hugh Jackman does his best Meg Ryan impression as he makes love to Bo Derek in his mind. But this one's an otherwise-gentle family comedy with quirk and charm and a big, simple heart.