Thursday, 12 May 2016

Eddie The Eagle (2016) - Movie Review

Even though buddy cop action films may hold the crown for the most widely recognised clichés, they still don’t hold much of a candle to the oddity that is the inspirational sports movie. The wide-eyed innocent of the genre family, it walks this weird divide where it is often based on actual events and yet is easily one of the most fantastical forms of drama (or dramedy, as a lot of these turn out) out there. Don’t get me wrong, films like the Rocky series show that gritty realism is just as welcome in this sector of filmmaking… when they aren’t inserting helper robots and Russian super soldiers into the narrative, that is. We’ve even looked at a few of these before like Paper Planes and last year’s update of the Rocky canon with Creed; between them, we have a pretty decent spectrum of what could be expected from a film like this. Needless to say, this is very much in the former category this time, but maybe that need not be such a bad thing. This is Eddie The Eagle.

The plot: Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) is determined to become an Olympian, despite how many people doubt him, so he goes to Germany to train for the Winter Olympics as a ski jumper. He soon finds a coach in the drunkard former champion Bronson (Hugh Jackman) and, with his unending optimism and drive, works to fulfill his dream. If this sounds hokey already, just wait until we get into the guts of this thing.

Egerton is officially the new rising star of British cinema and this is another notch on his belt because his portrayal of Eddie hits simple without coming across as too simple. He does a fine job of working with his character’s heavy optimism and innocence without feeling like he’s doing it for the sake of an award; much like Eddie himself, come to think of it. Jackman has spent many a year playing the surly anti-hero, and he pretty much coasts on that experience but he definitely seems to be having fun while doing so. Whether he’s drunkenly explaining ski jumping form or lighting a cigarette on the slopes (in quite possibly one of the most poseur moments I’ve ever seen, only it doesn’t induce anything but laughter), he makes a fun presence in the film.

Christopher Walken as Bronson’s former coach Warren gets roughly three bits of dialogue, and only one of them in direct conversation, and feels like he’s been largely wasted as there can never be such a thing as too much Christopher Walken in a movie. Tim McInnerny isn’t so much playing a villain as he is playing a guy who probably loves to cling wrap people’s toilet seats. Even he gives some disgusted faces at the attitudes he shows to other characters, especially Eddie. Keith Allen as Eddie’s father keeps hitting the “Son, I am disappoint” button as hard as he can, which gets kind of repetitive but he is at least able to fulfill his role. And Jim Broadbent plays the most British sports commentator in the history of anything.

This film climaxes while Van Halen’s Jump is playing in the background, and composer Matthew Margeson spends the rest of the film doing his best imitation of that song. In every scene. It is seriously distracting when you hear that all-too-familiar synth keyboard playing, sounding like that other Eddie has only ever gotten work making background music for brand-name cold medicine commercials. We get a mild blues riff for one of Bronson’s introductory scenes, but otherwise the soundtrack is about as 80’s as you can get. And while we’re highlighting the production crew of this thing, DOP George Richmond deserves some recognition because these are some of the most textbook camera techniques I’ve seen. A trombone shot to make the height seem even bigger than it already is, zooming up the slope to similar effect, the weirdly executed close-ups of Eddie while he’s on the slope; it all feels well-worn and kind of kitschy when seen in context to the rest of the film. Then again, kitsch is probably this film’s best friend.

If you have any issue with schmaltzy inspirational drama, you will hate this movie. This is dancing like no one is watching kind of content, where it wears every single trope of the already cheese-laden genre of sports films on its very puffed-up sleeves. It’s the classic underdog story where the up-and-coming athlete is taught by the washed-up veteran, with bonus points if he’s an alcoholic, and ends up showing everyone that they were wrong about him while also redeeming the mentor. That last point is said for all the world to hear quite a few times in this film, because this film and shame aren’t on speaking terms. There’s also the big bad establishment that stands in the hero’s way, complete with slitheringly obvious disdain for the guy. It actually manages to reference other sports movies of the 80’s as well, with how it only has nationalistically obsessed Germans picking on our hero like in Cool Runnings but the Jamaican bobsled team is actually mentioned in the film proper through a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it bit of radio exposition. They keep touting how this film is based on a true story, and if that is seriously the case then Bronson Peary is The Fonz in terms of inexplicable coolness.

But then again, this doesn’t strictly adhere to the real-life events of Eddie Edwards. Bronson Peary isn’t even an actual person and still wouldn’t work as an amalgamation of the two coaches who actually taught Eddie. I am not complaining about this, mind you. I have gone on long enough about the differences between films and documentaries for it to be clear that fidelity to reality isn’t a top priority around here. Hell, since I’ve mentioned Cool Runnings once already in this review, that film was also heavily fabricated and yet that is remembered as one of the classic family sports movies of the era. The production just fills in the holes in the genre mould that it’s been given, but it never feels like it has to conform to the standard and that’s probably what makes it work as well as it does. Everything about this film’s script, from the clichés to its attempts at pathos, all feel like they come from a definite place of admiration, if not just outright love, for the style. It doesn’t focus so much on the details as much as the mood and entertainment value of the film, which kind of works with a story like this.

Honestly, if I was to compare to any film, I’d probably put it next to Forrest Gump. Not that they’re necessarily equally well-made, but because their main characters work for the exact same reason. While there is a fair bit of mockery to be had on Eddie’s part by the people around him, from the rival skiers to his own parents, it never comes across like the film has any real cynicism about its subject matter. It doesn’t have any pretences of being anything more than a depiction of an underdog and, much like the pretence-less approach to Forrest Gump and his characterisation, it fulfils the basic requirement of a feel-good family film: You actually feel good while watching it. Outside of some sexual humour when Bronson teaches Eddie how to use his muscles by using a metaphor involving having sex with Bo Derek, it’s just about the most inoffensive thing out right now that doesn’t even make the slip-up of being offensively inoffensive; it’s way too sincerely for that.

All in all, this film’s levels of joviality and earnestness would ordinarily be unbearable, if it weren’t for the fact that the filmmakers believe every single word of it. The acting hits the notes that the story requires them to, ranging in varying degrees in hammy performances, the music is aggressively 80’s but it certainly fits the tone of the film, and while the writing and direction may be rather rudimentary for this kind of story, they still coalesce into a production that is a far cry better than a lot of films of late that have purported to be "feel-good".

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