3 Stars Movies

Fish vs. fowl in Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark

I’m not sure I took Taika Waititi’s Eagle vs. Shark as it may have been intended. A sort of New Zealand answer to Napoleon Dynamite, Eagle vs. Shark is the story of two misfit losers finding each other when no one else will have them. But I found one character as sympathetic as the other deplorable, while I suspect writer/director Waititi intended them to be seen as a good match, and deserving of a happy ending together.

Lily (pretty actress Loren Horsley, dressed down in frumpy clothes) may not be looking forward to any New Zealand beauty pageants, but she’s not un-cute. But being possibly the sweetest and nicest girl on the planet does not work to her advantage; awkward and over-earnest, she’s unable to say no to anybody, even when getting fired or dumped. Her only friend is her sweetheart brother, a cartoonist and world’s worst impressionist. Her favorite answer to each of life’s many disappointments is “it doesn’t matter.”

Jemaine Clement and Loren Horsley in Eagle vs. Shark
Fish or fowl?

We first meet Lily at her dead-end mall job at Meaty Bun, the sort of joint where layoffs are managed by literally pulling names from a hat (and even that is rigged). She has fallen in love with Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), a douchebag with a mullet who works at the nearby video game store. Jarrod is a true nerd: creepy and violently deranged. We learn later he is motivated by the impossible ideal of his over-achieving martyred brother (although there are family secrets to be uncovered there), and possesses an illegitimate daughter.

Jarrod and Lily have matching moles (not to be confused with the progressive rock band of the same name), and Lily is able to impress him with her natural talent at a gruesome video game. But beyond that, there is little connection beyond their shared isolation.

Jemaine Clement and Loren Horsley in Eagle vs. Shark
Pitching a tent

So I found myself rooting for something at odds with what the film presents as a happy ending: for Lily to break free of the poisonous dick Jarrod. Lily does manage at one point to say no to someone for the first time; she turns down a date with an even bigger loser than Jarrod. But despite this small sign of personal growth, her unrequited love for him is so absolute that even after he tries and fails to beat up a paraplegic, she goes on a suicide watch to protect him from his brother’s fate.

To be more positive, and to explain my three-star rating despite all the negativity above: I found Lily and her brother very endearing and the film often extremely funny. Awesome stop motion animation sequences throughout illustrate the love story through two anthropomorphized damaged apples.

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