Eagle vs Shark (2007)
Release Date: June 15th, 2007 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Taika Waititi Actors: Loren Horsley, Jemaine Clement, Joel Tobeck, Brian Sergent, Craig Hall, Rachel House, Chelsie Preston Crayford
arker and deeper than the obvious comparison of 2004’s “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Eagle vs Shark” introduces a similar brand of comedy with a somber yet sincere message. The most blatant difference is that of a prominent love story, which the aforementioned feature merely dabbed at it in the background. Both films center around characters in a comical world, wherein misfits are especially alienated, but here the levity is regularly dispensed with to tackle the doleful drama of unconditional love, oftentimes meandering on the ledge of downright depressing.
Lily (Loren Horsley), a lonely Meaty Boy employee, is infatuated with Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a nerdy and equally outcast customer who stops in every day to order a fast food meal. When Jarrod invites one of Lily’s coworkers to a costume party, Lily goes herself, hoping for a chance to be with Jarrod. After the two quickly and awkwardly become a couple, Jarrod reveals that he must travel back to his hometown to complete a personal mission, which involves reaping vengeance on an old high school nemesis. Lily opts to go with him, but is heartbroken when he breaks up with her to concentrate on training for the big confrontation. She must then decide whether Jarrod is worth fighting for – even when his friends and family have given up on him.
It’s a shame that “Eagle vs Shark” will forever be classified as New Zealand’s answer to “Napoleon Dynamite.” The film’s similarities include the use of eccentric lead characters and dry, subtle, and too true-to-life comedy, which seems to naturally pour out of everyday situations when such socially awkward people are involved. But the tone utilized by writer/star Horsley is undeniably darker. Lily and Jarrod’s relationship evolves into something much more complex than mere friendship; and complicating matters further is her expression of unconditional love. Whether or not it’s love at first sight or a longtime object of obsession, it’s never elaborated upon and, perhaps, it’s better left indistinct.
Loren’s performance is outstanding, oftentimes conveying an enormous spectrum of emotions with nothing more than her eyes. Dialogue in the film is extremely light, but this increases the impact of the cast’s actions. As simply as the characters are portrayed, there’s a wealth of complexity behind Lily, hinted at through subtleties in her timidity. And Jarrod’s persona is particularly abstruse because of his apparent lack of compassion and walled-up emotions. But what can be easily construed at first glance as coldheartedness is eventually revealed to be an inability to express his inner feelings (perpetrated by his father’s own emotional repression).
The humor in “Eagle vs Shark” is derived almost entirely from normal situations that are spun horribly out of whack due to the extreme peculiarities of the primary duo. Rarely do films focus on such outrageously, socially inept characters, stressing the notion that they are inferior with crippling shyness or utter impotency in effectively emulating standard behaviors. Mediocrity is a character unto itself; the leading couple is not particularly good at anything, nor are they able to accomplish much financially or publicly. But the basic emotions essential to life are still within their grasps. As blind as love may be in this film, it doesn’t allow them to sit idly by and do nothing. And with a contrasting additive of a perfectly upbeat soundtrack, “Eagle vs Shark” becomes a bitingly funny portrait of inadequacy and triumph, fueled by a poignancy all its own.
– Mike Massie