January 15, 2008 -- This romantic comedy about two lonely people who find each other while orbiting on the outer fringes of society reminded me a lot of a similar comic movie from a few years back, “Napoleon Dynamite.” Like that film, “Eagle Vs. Shark” is about societal misfits who find some strength by banding together. It is also about family, and unconditional love. This is the kind of story that could only have been told by an outsider, and writer-director Taika Cohen (AKA Taika Waititi) probably knows what it is like to be an outsider, being of native Te-Whanau-a-Apanui descent. This film is set in New Zealand, but its themes are universal.
Lily McKinnon (played brilliantly by Loren Horsley), an awkward young woman, has a secret crush on Jarrod Lough (played by Jemaine Clement), a nerdy young man. She finally gets a chance to meet him at a party he throws for his friends. She dresses as a shark, he dresses as an eagle, their favorite animals. They hit it off when it turns out she is very skilled at playing video games. She lets Jarrod win in order to get on his good side. The tactic works and the two seem to hit it off. Their relationship is awkward, and is strained almost to the breaking point by Jarrod's mad quest to get vengeance on a high school bully. Although Jarrod becomes more distant as the date of the fight approaches in his home town, Lily becomes friends with Jarrod's equally strange family. In the end, Jarrod finally comes to understand that Lily likes him, that she is a gem, and that if he doesn't grow up and earn her love that he is throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime.
Loren Horsley has the most wonderfully expressive, elastic face, which seems to reflect everything going on inside her head. Her performance is the glue that holds this wacky film together. Jemaine Clement is also good as the embarrasingly clueless and socially awkward Jarrod. This is a character with a lot of humanity, but very few admirable qualities. It is difficult to see what Lily sees in him. The film also uses some unusual visual stunts. Stop-motion photography is used to make it appear as if two people in sleeping bags are zipping across the landscape, chasing each other. The same technique is used to show an unlikely romance between an apple core and a rotten apple, following an attack by ants and an ocean voyage on a flip-flop. The director of photography in the film is Adam Clark. This is a very whimsical and entertaining film. It rates a B.
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