Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Eddie the Eagle"

 3.5 / 5 

Eddie the Eagle is the best feel-good film of 1990, a defiantly anachronistic little movie that takes the structure of every sports underdog movie ever made and doesn't even try to update it, proving that movie plots are a bit like building foundations: If they work, they work, don't argue about it.

Of course, you can build an ugly, ramshackle building on a solid foundation, and for every Chariots of Fire, Cool Runnings or Rudy created atop this particular story slab there's also a Bad News Bears Go to Japan, Rocky V or D3: The Mighty Ducks.

Eddie the Eagle hasn't just learned a key lesson from those inferior films, though, its characters utter that lesson over and over: You have to take it all seriously, you can't be arrogant about what you're doing, but if you're too proud of yourself, others will snigger at you.  It takes effort, determination and persistence to make a movie as earnest and crowd-pleasing as Eddie the Eagle.

Eddie the Eagle is also a refreshing reminder of how satisfying a movie can be when it only wants to tell a great story.  Eddie the Eagle has no Cinematic Universe to try to fit into, no saga to further, no mythology to square away with, so it can just down to the business of its story, which it does by almost immediately giving us a rapid-fire montage backed by a jaunty synthesized score.  Eddie the Eagle might as well have been made in 1988, not just set there.

It begins with young Eddie Edwards, a working-class British boy with braces on his knees, who's relentlessly taunted by everyone.  Even his own father thinks Eddie is ridiculous, especially the boy's oft-stated ambition to become an Olympic athlete.  And yet, here's a kid that won't give up, won't even consider it, and certainly doesn't know how awful he is at pretty much everything.  The little montage that more or less opens the movie provides some of its biggest laughs and sets the tone for everything else.  Eddie the Eagle knows exactly how deluded Eddie is and has no worries about playing that earnestness for laughs.

In his early 20s, Eddie may be slow and dim-witted, but he's not entirely without self-awareness -- the summer games will never work.  Ah, but the Winter Olympics remain an option!   The little problem that Eddie lacks any winter-sports skills offers no deterrence, and Taron Egerton (who was the best, cleverest element of last year's odd Kingsman: The Secret Service) finds exactly the right balance between determination and desperation, always leaving us wondering whether Eddie, in spite of his considerable charms, needs some help.

Almost on a whim, he selects the ski jump as his sport -- and comes to find out that, in fact, Britain hasn't had an Olympic ski jumper in many year.  The Olympic selection committee doesn't want him, though -- after all, he's been ski jumping all of two weeks.  But rules are rules, and the British rules say that if a ski jumper his the qualification mark, he makes the team -- or, in Eddie's case, he'll be team.

Nothing is going to dissuade Eddie, even the fact that the totality of his ski-jumping experience is a matter of minutes.  He/s up against Finns and Swedes and Norwegians and Germans who had done this their entire lives, who have been training since they were six.  One-time ski-jumping bad boy Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) sees Eddie's addle-brained insistence and hesitatingly begins to coach him.

When Eddie ascends the biggest jump he's ever attempted in his single-minded quest to qualify, Eddie the Eagle does something pretty impressive: It makes you forget the formula and doubt the outcome, makes you hold your breath and wonder how it will all turn out.  As Eddie's unlikely quest progresses, the movie sweetly but relentlessly strikes at every possible emotional defense until there is no way to resist.  Maybe the most cynical will refrain from being moved by the last 15 minutes, but it's hard to see how.

Through its perfectly pitched chemistry between Egerton and Jackman -- both of whom are at their most gregarious -- its neon-colored Eighties vibe,  and its odd and unexpected story, Eddie the Eagle is engineered to do nothing more than please its audience.  And that's precisely what it does.

Viewed Feb. 27, 2016 -- AMC Burbank 16


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