Directed by Taika Waititi
Having lost her parents in a car crash, Lily trudges through life delivering every word with a deadpan monotone that makes her the brunt of abuse at the fast food restaurant where she rugs. The only thing that gets her through the day is when the rugged Jarrod comes in to order his daily meal. Jarrod works at a video game store in the same mall, and he’s all about putting on the façade of being cool even though obviously he’s far from it. Despite this, Lily chases after her crush, dressing up in a makeshift shark outfit to crash Jarrod’s animal costume partyas you may have guessed, his animal is the eagleand quickly wins him over with her impressive video game fighting skills. One thing leads to another and they hook up, but he dumps her because he’s obsessed with training for a grudge match with a bully from his school days.
It only takes a few minutes to adjust to the quirky eccentricities of the main characters in Taika Waikiki’s feature-length film debut, and though there’s something really endearing about their relationship, it’s not exactly “romantic” in the traditional sense of the word. Surrounding this duo as their bizarre relationship folds is a strange menagerie of supporting characters including Lily’s older brother Damon, who doesn’t realize that his celebrity impersonations aren’t very good, and Jarrod’s even odder family, including his tracksuit wearing sister and his wheelchair-bound father, who’s been heavily depressed since the death of Jarrod’s athletic superstar brother followed by his mother abandoning the family. It’s quickly apparent why Jarrod moved away from his family, because none of them take him seriously, and he probably hopes that fighting his former school bully will help Jarrod win his family’s love and respect.
Sure, there are some similarities to “Napoleon Dynamite” in the sense that Jarrod is a similarly uncool geek trying to win the respect of those around him by acting like he’s better than everyone else. As Jarrod, Jemaine Clement (who also stars in the new HBO series “Flight of the Conchords”) is able to show far more range than other comic actors by playing up Jarrod’s boorish behavior to the point where you’re so amused by it that you can’t help but like him. Obviously, there are many real guys out there who try to escape from their emotions by acting like immature jerks, so caught up in themselves and their hobbies that they don’t realize how they’re behaving, but the way Clement plays this up makes the big reveal of why he acts this way that much more effective.
You have to wonder what Lily sees in him and feel bad for her when he starts pushing her away, and Loren Horsely’s well-rounded performance really helps you fall in love with her and helps you take her side in the third act, as it builds to Jarrod’s confrontation with his arch-nemesis and a surprisingly funny twist or two.
It’s hard to discern why “Eagle vs. Shark” works so well, but much of it has to do with the fact that it’s filled with funny bits without deliberately trying to be funny with jokes or gags. The humor flows so smoothly and naturally that you just accept that this is the characters are, and it never tries to get completely serious, which tends to be the case with indie comedies, even as it gets into the poignant moments of Jarrod trying to impress his father and gain some of the love that he continually heaps on Jarrod’s deceased brother.
Adding to the film’s charm is the primitive stop motion animation of two applesone rotten, one eaten awaythat tells a parallel story, and though it might look or sound silly at first, it all makes sense in the end when the two apples meet up.
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