Eddie the Eagle ***1/2
True life underdog sports stories are sure-fire ways to tug at universal human emotions. In Eddie the Eagle we follow the adorable misfit Brit, Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards, from a childhood with “dodgy knees” and leg braces, through his teens, and into young adulthood as he pursues his lifelong dream to be an Olympian. Eddie is played by 25-year-old handsome newcomer Taron Egerton (Kingsmen: The Secret Service). He’s let himself go a bit floppy in the body, and sticks out his lower jaw for the entirety of the movie to best mimic the real-life, bespectacled, hapless athlete, Edwards. Egerton plays the role with heart and skill, selling us on a truly remarkable story that culminated in the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Following his lifelong dream to do almost anything to get into any Olympic games, Eddie stumbles (quite literally) upon Ski Jumping, and the washed up, former would-be superstar ski jumper Bronson Pearly, played by Hugh Jackman. Jackman never disappoints whether portraying the singing hero in Les Miserables, the superhero with a violent streak, Wolverine, in The X-Men, and here as the semi-drunk reluctant coach in Eddie the Eagle so desperately needs. Still the show goes to star Egerton and his understated portrayal of the socially awkward but determined amateur athlete who beat the odds, his own father’s misgivings, and who became the everyman hero in 1988.
In the week’s other big sports film, Olympic star Jessie Owens’ struggle was not with his athleticism (he was seemingly born with the skills to shatter track & field records), but rather the issues of race, which were not only boiling over in the U.S., but in Nazi Germany, as well. In a supposedly accurate retelling of Owens’ life, this bio-pic takes us from his humble beginnings as an unmarried teen father in Cleveland, through a scholarship at Ohio State University, where he almost immediately began breaking school and international records. In an era before African Americans were often even allowed to compete, Owens was breaking down walls and remaining cool (mostly) under tremendous pressure. The NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) didn’t want Owens to go to the 1936 Olympics as a protest for the ways Blacks were being treated in the U.S. and to stand in solidarity with the Jews who were being brutalized in Germany. Adding a political twist, morally flawed International Olympic President Avery Brundage (played by Jeremy Irons), is shown as both an eventual but reluctant supporter of Owens, even while he was making racially charged backdoor deals with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Race, with its obvious double-meaning, is a fine movie, an important history lesson, and another uplifting sports story that would fit nicely on the shelf with Rudy, Ali, Miracle, Rocky, Eddie the Eagle, and Cool Runnings.
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