Eagle vs. Shark (Miramax, R)

film_eagle_smHorsley's performance is truly excellent, and Clement's is by no means bad; it's just that his character was not given enough depth by Cohen.






At first glance, it might seem as though you've seen New Zealand's Eagle vs. Shark before, specifically in the form of Napoleon Dynamite. Except, where the latter relied almost exclusively on catch-phrasing and "let's laugh at the socially inept loser" humor, Eagle vs. Shark puts more stock into characterization, emotion, and drama, albeit the sort that relies heavily on self-conscious quirkiness. There's almost certainly going to be a clashing of sentiments due to the two films' similarities, but in the end there's going to be those who like laughing at losers, those who appreciate seeing the sweet side of awkward, and those who don't like any movie that resembles any other movie they've seen before.


The biggest success for writer/director Taika Cohen is the film's central character, Lily (Loren Horsley), who we first see acting out a desired romantic scenario in the mirror. A doe-eyed fast food employee who is ostracized by her co-workers, Lily eyes the clock every day in anticipation of seeing Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a self-assured king of the nerds who is completely oblivious to Lily's crush. After Jarrod's own misguided efforts to attract Lily's more stereotypically beautiful co-worker fail, Lily seizes the day and invites herself to Jarrod's "dress as your favorite animal" party. Accompanied by her goofy but caring brother Damon, Lily arrives dressed as a shark, a costume that Jarrod declares as the second best at the party behind his "slightly better" eagle. Lily further impresses the spectacled, stone-faced Jarrod with her video game skills, resulting in an awkward sexual encounter, and the birth of a relationship.

Following the party, Jarrod stands up Lily at the Cine-Saurus Rex theater, but shows up to her house to apologize, citing his depression that was allegedly born out of getting beat up in high school by Eric Elisi, a guy who he tells Lily he plans to confront and kill, if only he had wheels to get home. Of course, Damon has a car, and we soon find Lily accompanying Jarrod to his hometown where his oddball family lives, minus the mother and Jarrod's dead older brother (and the family's pride and joy), Gordon. The rest of the film centers on Jarrod's feeble training leading up to the big fight, a preoccupation that renders Jarrod increasingly stubborn, childishly cruel, and emotionally unavailable to Lily.

As a leading character, Jarrod is very boorish and unlikable, despite being played by the intensely likeable Clement, of Flight of the Concords fame. It's difficult to see his appeal to Lily, whose sweetness, uncomfortable beauty, and irresistible warmth will immediately pull you in, and whose growth is Eagle vs. Shark's backbone. Horsley's performance is truly excellent, and Clement's is by no means bad; it's just that his character was not given enough depth by Cohen, a factor that could break this movie for many viewers. The rest of the cast is touchingly drawn, and each capture little nuggets of the heart and solemnity of simple folk along the way. As a director, Cohen's efforts greatly resemble the aforementioned Hess film, as well as a less-focused Wes Anderson, although he does have obvious talent and originality (interspersed stop animation makes for a precious touch).

Overall, Eagle vs. Shark is quite different from most films that you'll see, the only question is whether or not its self-awareness will bother viewers, or whether or not the motivation behind these characters' emotions is satisfying enough to get the audience on their side, so that the comedy is more genuine. It seems like a lot of people might laugh at completely different moments in Eagle vs. Shark. I wonder if that's a good thing? | Dave Jasmon

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