Made in New Zealand by first-time writer-director Taika Waititi, Eagle vs. Shark is the telling tale of Lily, a lonely waitress in the Meaty Boy burger bar frequented by Jarrod, a socially inept loser who’s unwittingly lit up Lily’s life.
Pleased by Lily’s attention and optimism, self-obsessed Jarrod invites her to a dress-as-your-favourite-animal party and so begins a mismatched mating game, both winsome and wince-inducing. And when Jarrod announces his intention to trek home to square off against a former school bully who ruined his life, Lily tags along for moral support, wining-over Jarrod’s misfit family along the way.
Eagle vs. Shark is as beady eyed as a bird of prey and as sharp as a shark’s tooth. Refreshingly real, it blows open the nerdiness of Lily and Jarrod’s world, but takes potshots at us all – in an almost fly-on-the-wall, warts-and-all examination of human follies, foibles and failure.
Ultimately, though, it’s a celebration of the power of love lived out in the full knowledge of folly and failure. And therein lies the film’s edge and bite – and its feathery softness. But it’s Loren Horsley’s perfect performance as Lily - vulnerable, open, plucky and positive – that’s gives the film it’s heart and soul.
Jemaine Clement’s Jarrod is a brilliant – if monstrous – creation, blind to any perceptions but his own, wrapped up in his own stale world and imprisoned by memories of a less than happy childhood. It’s difficult to understand what Lily sees in him. But that’s where Waititi nails it again – everyone can be loveable to someone.
Waititi’s humour is spot-on and his creation of an offbeat, introverted world is all too real. “Come to the party”, Jarrod tells Lily, “It’ll be great. My mate puts on a helmet and we throw shoes at his head”. And Lily sees symbolism in the mole that she and Jarrod both have on their upper lip. Each sees the world differently – like an eagle and a shark.
Telegraphing the possibility of their togetherness in animated sequences – all the rage these days (Hallam Foe has some too) – in which two tossed away apples find each other, is perhaps a touch too far. And Waititi overplays his hand when Jarrod confronts his childhood nemesis, veering into unnecessarily dark waters.
Eagle vs. Shark wowed the critics at the Sundance Film Festival and rightly so. An insightful, witty and very funny film – it’s a walk on the wild side of life…and love.