One passage about two-thirds of the way through Eddie the Eagle suggests a more unconventional tale lurking beneath the film’s avalanche of underdog-sports-movie clichés. Up until this point, this proudly “based on a true story” production hews closely to the standard genre template, with British wannabe athlete Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) risking life and limb in order to become a ski-jumper at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary even without the requisite years of experience going in. But then, after he successfully finishes the 70m jump at the games, Eddie, overwhelmed by emotion at having achieved his goal, begins to outwardly express his joy by flapping his arms like an eagle for the crowd (thus his “eagle” nickname). As a result, he becomes a celebrity during those games, egged on in part by some canny PR professionals, to some degree overshadowing the ski-jumping events themselves (to the consternation of some of the British Olympic coaches).
During these scenes, one begins to hold out hope that the film will add a more interesting wrinkle to its predictable triumph-against-all-odds arc, acknowledging the irony of Edwards becoming famous not because of any athletic ability or his relentless can-do optimism, but because audiences saw his behavior as little more than an amusing sideshow. Edwards himself seems all-too-willing to play up to the crowd’s adoration, to the disappointment of his unofficial coach, former U.S. ski-jumper Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), who gruffly warns him about how transitory such fame is.
Ultimately, though, the worshipful filmmakers have no interest in suggesting anything less than pure-hearted about this supposedly guileless figure. Taron Egerton’s hammy performance as Edwards follows his director’s lead: With his oversized glasses, thick-footed gait and jutted-out chin, Egerton radiates childlike sincerity to a degree that occasionally verges on the cartoonish. Most of the performances in the film, in fact, are pitched at similarly broad levels, especially the villainous British Olympic Association official (Graham Fletcher-Cook) who seems adamant about keeping Edwards off the team. Perhaps, though, there’s only so much the actors can do with characters that seem to have been conceived to only be either passionate supporters or mustache-twirling opponents of Edwards’s quest for personal vindication. Eddie the Eagle remains more committed to printing the uplifting legend of its title character than in actually examining the human beings underneath.