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Eagle vs. Shark

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 05/07/07 11:11:08

"An absolute pleasure to sit through, first the first frame to the last."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Eagle vs. Shark," a romantic comedy about a mismatched pair of social outcasts from New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January where it quickly became an audience and critical favorite. Some early reviews referred to "Eagle vs. Shark" as “Napoleon Dynamite for adults.” That’s close, but it doesn’t quite capture "Eagle vs. Shark’s" quirk, wit, or charm, or how deftly it spoofs its characters’ idiosyncrasies and tweaks romantic comedy conventions while celebrating their uniqueness and embraces some of the painful truths (and lies we tell ourselves) about romantic relationships.

Lily (Loren Horsley), a late twenty-something who lives with her brother, Damien (Joel Tobeck), works at a fast-food burger joint taking orders. As bad as her dead-end job is, Lily gets laid off, but her magnanimous boss allows her finish out the week. She restlessly counts down the minutes until Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a mullet-sporting employee at a local videogame store, stops in for his lunchtime break. Jarrod, though, has eyes only for Lily’s co-worker, Jenny, a dismissive blonde. Seeing an opportunity, Jarrod asks Lily to pass on an invite to his animal-themed costume party to Jenny. Jenny passes on the invite, but Lily decides to go and dresses up as a shark. Jarrod, dressed as an eagle, is suitably impressed. Jarrod’s more impressed when Lily beats all comers in a video fight game to meet him in the finals. They begin a tentative romance.

While Lily sees more in Jarrod than anyone else, she’s surprised when he discloses that he’s a “man on a mission,” a revenge mission. Jarrod’s been quietly training to take on his high-school nemesis when he gets back from Samoa. With news that his nemesis is due to return, Jarrod decides to go back home. Minus a car, Jarrod gets Damien to drive him there. Lily comes along and decides to stay with Jarrod and his dysfunctional family, including his sister Anthea (Jackie van Beek). There, Lily begins to discover clues about Jarrod’s family, including Jarrod’s dead brother, Gordon (Taika Waititi). Gordon, a star athlete, was obviously everything Jarrod wasn’t. He was popular, he was well liked and his father’s favorite son. As the big fight day approaches, Jarrod’s selfishness gets the better of him and Lily has to decide what future, if any, they have together.

The synopsis alone doesn’t do justice to Eagle vs. Shark’s endearing qualities. It’s not just the eccentric, self-absorbed characters that are worthy of some measure of derision and yet oddly sympathetic. It’s not just the offbeat humor derived from the characters’ personalities and the situations they find themselves in. It’s not just the performances, all of them spot on, with Loren Horsley giving a standout, award-worthy performance. It’s all that and more. The humor in Eagle vs. Shark is spot on for various reasons, but mostly because beyond the mullets and cheap eyewear, the dead-end jobs, the crazy dreams of revenge for high-school slights, lies the hunger for human intimacy, regardless of social status or acceptance. It’s what would could otherwise have been a mean-spirited comedy at the expense of society’s outsiders is instead a gentle celebration of the universal desire for emotional and yes physical intimacy, and all without resorting to cheap gags (ok, maybe a few).

Too often, a festival gem gets talked about, but doesn’t get picked up for stateside release, leaving non-festival goers on the outside looking in. That’s not the case here. The good, no great news, is that Miramax Films picked up "Eagle vs. Shark" for a release in the United States just days before its premiere at the Sundance film festival. Miramax has scheduled "Eagle vs. Shark" for a June release."Eagle vs. Shark" may not make "Napoleon Dynamite" numbers at the box office, but, with everything it has going for it, chances are it’ll have a long shelf life. Let’s just hope Taika Waititi’s next feature film gets a stateside release too.

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