Everyone loves an underdog—especially in the sports genre.
From the portraits of Rocky (1976) and Rudy (1993) to the collective victories featured in A League of Their Own (1992) and Miracle (2004), dramatic structure naturally amplifies the virtue of endurance—whereby underestimated characters survive a series of intensifying trials of antagonism in order to achieve an earth-shattering climax of public recognition.
No other period in filmmaking history understood this formula, or the power of the montage, more than the 1980’s and 90’s—which wisely serve as the reference point of Dexter Fletcher’s Eddie the Eagle (2016).
On the underestimation scale, Eddie (Taron Egerton) registers somewhere between Napoleon Dynamite and Forest Gump. But underneath Eddie’s Grumpy Cat exterior beats the heart of an Olympian. A British Olympian; but as the film tenderly reminds us, you don’t have to win a gold medal in order to capture the Olympic spirit. Sadly, no one can see it except for a washed up former American ski jumper named Bronson (Hugh Jackman) who provides Eddie with the chicken soup for every underdog’s spirit: belief.
Bronson believes in Eddie the way Mickey cheers for Rocky, Gordon bonds with his Ducks, and Irv bets on the Jamaican bobsled team. Sure, it’s a trope, but it’s a fundamental desire all audiences identify with: the longing to meet someone who sees our hidden potential and invests in our future. Someone who will hold bags while we punch them, show us how to hit a puck with a stick, and demonstrate how to steer a bobsled without actually being able to fit inside one. Someone, dare I say, to be in a montage with.
Eddie turns to Bronson for support, and in the subsequent scenes that parallel virtually every trope of the golden age of the sports genre, the story of their endurance against all odds is one that soars to the level of the films it so cleverly pays homage to in it’s costuming, musical selections, and humor. Eddie the Eagle isn’t the type of film that challenges audiences; it’s one that taps into our inner desire to overcome adversity and have our spirits lifted, actually off the ground in this case, in climactic fashion.