In the past week or so, we have seen two "base-on-a-true-story" movies that are remarkably similar. In both movies, an athlete overcomes childhood health problems to become an athlete; enjoys the support of a cheering mother and the bare tolerance of a father with other concerns; endures prejudice and elitism in working toward the Olympics; is coached by an alcoholic who lost his Olympic shot years earlier; is urged not to participate in the Olympics, even after qualifying;encounters poor treatment by the Olympic coaches at the Olympics; goes to the Olympics and performs his personal best.
Our family enjoyed each of these movies fairly equally. Race, of course, features an amazingly impressive winning Olympian. Jesse Owens, with modern shoes, starting blocks, and track, could still give the fastest man in the world a run for his money. Eddie the Eagle was an average athlete who went to the Olympics on a semi-loophole: no other British athlete competed in the ski jump so he was an (almost) automatic qualifier. At the Olympics, Jesse Owens set records and bested everyone. Eddie came in last with jumps half the distance of other jumpers. In Race, the Olympics is testing ground, but the blood, sweat and tears for Eddie comes in the journey to be qualified for the ski jump event.
No doubt about it, Jesse Owens suffered horrible prejudice and injustice. Even as a star athlete at Ohio State and at the 1936 Olympics, he was treated poorly because of his race, though Jewish-Americans fared even worse at the Olympics. The movie chronicles this injustice, juxtaposed with Owen's absolute athletic superiority. Though the movie depicts the racism Owens faced here at home, the even less nuanced bigotry of the Nazi regime toward black athletes at the Olympics is highlighted in the second half of the movie (as well as the horrible acts of the Nazis toward Jewish citizens in Berlin in 1935 and 1936). Though a bit long and draggy, the movie is definitely worth watching, particularly with kids. Eddie Edwards seems to have been mistreated because of his socioeconomic class and perhaps because of his oddball personality. The movie shows him being summarily cut from the Olympic trials in downhill skiing, which Eddie attributes to his not having attended the right schools because he was the fastest. A quick browse of the internet only reveals that he was the last person cut from the downhill team. Of course, being good enough or almost good enough to go to the Olympics in downhill skiing seems a little incompatible with how amateurish Eddie is portrayed as he tries to become a ski jumper, but whatever. Eddie's struggle to get to the Olympics is helped when he meets a former ski jumper, now alcoholic slope groomer, who eventually is won over by Eddie's persistence and fearlessness. In the end, Eddie gets to the 1988 Olympics, where he becomes a media darling for his antics.
Both Jesse Owens and Eddie Edwards are not perfect in these movies. When Owens goes to OSU, he leaves behind a girlfriend and a daughter, but fame seems to distract him from his promises to his girlfriend. He eventually reforms his personal life. Eddie's flaws are harder to pinpoint. He is single-minded about wanting to go to the Olympics, but he seems content with making the team via loophole and not merit. As his coach notes, he should want to strive to be a contender in the 1992 games, not a participant in the 1988 games. He also tries to redeem himself mid-Olympics by entering an event he has never practiced, and it's hard to see how this is redemption and not just another stunt, albeit an impressive one.
Another note: Eddie the Eagle is rated PG-13. The reason it is not PG is one scene that my eight year-old did not understand at all. In this scene, Hugh Jackman (the coach) gives a When Harry Met Sally-esque performance of ski jumping-as-sex-act. When we left, Will kept saying, "I don't know why it's rated PG-13 and not PG." Well, I did.