Movie Review: 'Eddie the Eagle' (2016)

Sweet and sentimental with loads of inexhaustible charm, “Eddie the Eagle” is the highly fictionalized account of how Michael Edwards aka Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards cemented himself as one of the most famous underdogs in sports history by becoming the first-ever ski jumper to represent Great Britain at the Winter Olympics in 1988.

It merits repeating that director Dexter Fletcher’s “biopic” is highly fictionalized, severely so. You need only glance at the excellent comparison piece over at History vs. Hollywood’s site to learn that among other things, there was no Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who coached Eddie (Taron Egerton) to his full potential. He is a complete work of fiction.

Why movies feel the need to distort the facts continues to be a bristling point of contention when it comes to these so-called biographical dramas. There is nothing biographical about erasing and inserting people into the “true” story of someone’s life.

Why the decision is made to omit certain facts or persons is also puzzling. For instance, the real Michael Edwards is not an only child. He has a sister. Why did she need or better yet deserve to be written out?

This was not merely an incident of “artistic license”. It was the use of a full blown license to eradicate. Why certain filmmakers feel it necessary to play fast and loose with the truth, one may never know. If they do not want to make a movie about the real Michael Edwards than write up a story that resembles the real man and leave his name out of it, a la 1964’s “The Carpetbaggers”.

Without the knowledge that what you are watching is an absolute work of fiction “Eddie the Eagle” is a marvelous little movie. Like 1993’s “Cool Runnings”, it possesses tremendous heart and while it has a paint-by-the-numbers sports dramedy formula, it is no less riveting to watch unfold.

Like a lot of cinematic sports heroes before him, Eddie represents the irrepressible underdog whose tenacious spirit captured the hearts and minds of real-life Olympic spectators and seeing the movie, it is easy to understand why. He embodies the “never give up” mentality that people cling to for inspiration.

As far as the movie goes, there’s a lot to be excited about. For one; there is a sweetness to its approach that circumvents a syrupy overdose, thanks in large part to Jackman’s hard boiled coach character giving the film a rough enough touch to counterbalance Eddie’s sugary zeal.

The pair’s friendship is believably built and the second-party storyline of Peary’s own self-evolution is grippingly rendered. A rousing 80’s soundtrack lifts the film to even greater heights, while its cast manages endearing performances across the board.

When you consider Egerton is the same actor who portrayed the brash and obnoxious lead in last year’s sleeper hit “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, you cannot deny his range. As Eddie, he conveys the humility and salt of the earth purity that is tantamount to the film and its telling.

What is confusing is why Edgerton is so astute in his accuracy at portraying the real-life Edwards, nailing him down to the slightest mannerism, when the overall movie asserts to do the exact opposite, almost entirely dismissing a portrayal of the facts.

Why have the lead go to such extraordinary lengths for performance precision when everything surrounding him are falsehoods? It is a choice that is positively mind boggling in its incongruity. Regardless, co-star Hugh Jackman gets in some strong moments throughout the movie, portraying his character's gruff tough-guy persona and encouraging paternal side with equal vigor. Jo Hartley and Keith Allen round out the cast as Eddie’s supportive and long-suffering parents, both of whom pull off their roles stupendously.

By the time it comes to an end, it is hard to imagine “Eddie the Eagle” not managing to build a nest in even the most walled off of hearts. It is sincere in its sentiments, just not the facts. To put it mildly, it will not be earning any gold medals for fact-based movie of the year.

This is a glaring problem one has to ignore to enjoy the rest and if you can, it is a film more than worthwhile. It does not sting with the real world stakes of “Rudy” or “Friday Night Lights”, it is more winsome in tone but when you are operating with a script that is 99% fiction, how can there really be any? Rating: 6.8/10