Cast: Jemaine Clement (Jarrod), Loren Horsley (Lily), Craig Hall (Doug Davis), Joel Tobeck (Damon), Rachel House (Nancy), Taika Cohen (Gordon), Aaron Cortesi (Duncan), David Fane (Eric Elisi), Adam Gardiner (Tony), Cori Gonzales-Macuer (Mark), Tanea Heke (Jarrod's Mum), Morag Hills (Vinny), Cohen Holloway (Mason), Gentiane Lupi (Tracy), Chelsie Preston-Crayford (Jenny), Bernard Stewart (Zane) & Joel Tobeck (Damien)
It's been described as a Kiwi version of Napoleon Dynamite, and Eagle Vs. Shark certainly shares Jared Hess's comic sensibility. The differences between Dynamite and this New Zealand comedy is that writer-director Taiki Waititi's film targets geeks in adulthood and has an awkward romance at its core.
Jemaine Clement, the chubbier-Jeff Goldblum half of comedy band Flight Of The Conchords, essentially reprises his Conchords alter-ego to play Jarrod; a self-assured geek who works in a video-game store and organizes a party where people come dressed as their favourite animal. Loren Horsley plays Lily; a shy fast-food worker, who fancies Jarrod from afar and manages to slip into his party dressed as a shark. Jarrod, of course, is the titular eagle...
Against expectation, it doesn’t take long for Jarrod and Lily to become an item, after Lily impresses him with her video-gaming skills. With the odd couple united, the film shifts focus to Jarrod's return to his family home, introducing Lily to his dysfunctional family, whilst preparing for revenge against a childhood bully.
Eagle Vs. Shark has its moments (particularly in the more assured opening 20-minutes), but the solid start begins to unravel as Jarrod's family fail to inspire hilarity, and attempts to throw in serious elements (a grieving," crippled" father/the reveal Jarrod has a 9-year-old daughter) are either uncomfortably handled, or pointless.
The film strains to make you care about Jarrod and Lily's relationship, primarily because Jarrod's such an idiotic, boastful man-child, and Lily's resolutely awkward demeanour quickly begins to irritate. We're supposed to hope these two misfits find true love together, but I spent half the time hoping Lily would hurry up and realize Jarrod's an insufferable prat who doesn't deserve her affection.
For a film that, on the surface, is designed to champion geeks as eccentric, complex, loving people, Eagle Vs. Shark generally spends half its time ridiculing them. The jokes at their expense can be briefly funny, but their lives are exaggerated into caricature and all the characters fail to show a different side – even when gifted ideal story opportunities with parenthood, a disapproving father, the break-up of a relationship, and a chance to rise above petty revenge...
At a sprightly 93-minutes, Eagle Vs. Shark at least provides a fairly zippy and wry viewing experience. Chances are you'll chuckle a few times before the sombre tone swallows everything at Jarrod's home -- but the film is crippled by its irritating leads, the inability to merge seriousness and quirkiness, and a tone that doesn't poke fun at geeks – it sledgehammers you with their perceived inadequacies.
Amusing affection vs. sneering contempt? A victory for the latter.
Budget: NZ$1.8m / $1.35m