Eddie the Eagle and Hugh Jackman win gold at Sundance 2016
Dexter Fletcher's crowd-pleasing biopic of Britain's hapless Olympic hero has crashed in the snowy hills of Utah - and the landing couldn't have gone smoother
The biggest unkept secret at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival was that 20th Century Fox’s Eddie the Eagle would be the secret, or “townie” screening for the residents of Park City, Utah on Tuesday night. Eddie’s unofficial world premiere at America’s premier independent film event was more or less announced when stars Hugh Jackman and Taron Edgerton popped up all over the city’s infamous Main St. for press interviews.
The duo made quite a splash introducing the movie – Jackman coaxed the audience to engage in a round of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie,” - but it was the (mostly) true story of Eddie Edwards that likely stuck with them the most.
Edwards made history at the 1988 Calgary Olympics as the first British ski jumper to participate in a Winter Games in over 60 years. He became a global celebrity after landing jumps in two different competitions during those games and earning the nickname “Eddie the Eagle.”
More importantly, he gave hope to millions that no matter what your background or upbringing if you worked hard enough and persevered enough you too could become an Olympian. Remarkably, the Dexter Fletcher directed biopic not only respects his legacy, but also finds a way to avoid mocking the quirky Edwards (wonderfully portrayed by Edgerton) himself.
Following the movie’s delightful depiction of our hero’s childhood obsession with becoming an Olympic athlete, the audience learns what he’s truly up against when the British Olympic Committee informs him that, despite his performance on the downhill skiing team, he won’t be allowed to participate in the qualifiers for the Games. Edwards comes from a working class family and because he didn’t attend the right university he’s basically told he’s unworthy to be an Olympian.
Realising the organisation’s rules wouldn’t hinder him from participating in ski jumping, Edwards takes a leap of faith and travels to a German training facility. That’s where, in the film at least, he meet former U.S. champion Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman) who he’ll eventually convince to be his coach.
Beyond Fletcher’s superb direction and Matthew Margeson’s spot on Eighties themed score, the film soars on the chemistry between Edgerton and Jackman. Of course, Jackman’s character and his time in Germany is completely fictional (Edwards was trained by two established American coaches in Lake Placid, NY) the two actors are so good they’ll make you believe this is how it all actually went down.
As fantastic and transformative Edgerton is, its Jackman’s performance that seals the deal. Speaking to the packed audience following the Tuesday night screening Fletcher revealed that it was producer Matthew Vaughn who first suggested they approach the Australian box office superstar.
Fletcher recalled, “When the script came around Matthew said, ‘We’ve got to go to Hugh Jackman.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, right. Let’s do that and see if Brad Pitt is available as well.’ But Hugh read the script and I found myself on an airplane going to New York thinking ‘This is good.’ And I met Hugh who was just unbelievably enthusiastic because he remembered Eddie when he was a kid. He was very keen from the outset.”
While the film takes some obvious creative liberties outside of Jackman’s composite character, it sticks to history when Edwards gets to Calgary. Fletcher credits the real Edwards, who endured 15 years of different incarnations and scripts surrounding the project, for giving the movie his blessing after Jackman and Edgerton came on board. It was incredibly important to the director that they all did his life justice.
“The movie could easily tip over to sentimentality, but that would do it a disservice,” Fletcher told the Sundance faithful. “It’s a fictionalised account of a true story as much as it can be, but I still wanted it to feel like it’s authentic. I still wanted it to be so that when we go on that journey it all held together.”
On that point he should sleep easy tonight. The audience, many of whom missed the reports about what film was sneaking that night, laughed throughout and even clapped when Edwards landed some of his more dangerous jumps.
And when the credits rolled, the theater erupted into a spontaneous applause that pretty much expected. That’s because Eddie the Eagle has the sophisticated visual style of a Vaughn produced film, the charm of a Working Title release and the heart of a Disney sports movie. And, frankly, that’s a combination that even the most ardent independent film lovers can’t resist.
Eddie the Eagle is released in the UK on March 28