By Michelle Strozykowski
Eagle vs Shark (2007) is a quirky, offbeat indie film from New Zealand. Directed by Taika Waititi, famed these days for his directorial and acting work on blockbusters like Thor: Ragnarok and Jojo Rabbit, when he directed this early film Waititi was actually better known as a stand up comedian.
Jermaine Clement and Loren Horsley
Eagle vs Shark stars Waititi's long time friend and collaborator Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords. Clement plays the atypical love interest in Eagle vs Shark, a weedy video game shop assistant called Jarrod. Jarrod throws a rather feeble attempt at a fancy dress party where everyone goes as their favourite animal. The attendees then compete in a knockout tournament of a computer game called 'Fightman' (hence the Eagle vs Shark title).
Mild mannered Lily (Loren Horsley) has a crush on Jarrod. She gatecrashes his party in an attempt to get to know him better, and manages to impress him with her game fighting skills.
The Love Story
Eagle vs Shark is an unconventional love story between two nerdy freaks who are just perfect for each other. Despite this obviously being the case (to everyone looking), there seems to be a whole string of problems preventing them getting together. Mostly this comes down to the sheer idiocy of Jarrod. It is his delusions of grandeur that serve to sabotage his own chance of happiness. Over the course of the film Jarrod comes up with some absolutely corking and imminently quotable reasons for his spoilt brat-like behaviour such as:
"I'm so complex".
Luckily Lily is infinitely patient and understanding. She is also smitten, so she accepts his nonsense without question.
Lily was played Taika Waititi's at-the-time girlfriend Loren Horsley. She also co wrote the original story on which the film was based, with Waititi, and is credited as a writer. She was a perfect fit for the role, bringing a gentle sweetness to the awkward, geeky hamburger waitress Lily.
Comparisons with Napoleon Dynamite
On release, Eagle vs Shark drew frequent comparisons with that other noughties comedy hero of ineptitude Napoleon Dynamite. The films do come from the same comic stable - they both take the lives of losers as their subject matter - but whereas Napoleon's quirks are played for laughs, Eagle vs Shark engenders a more emotional response. Lily's generosity and forgiving nature gives the film a heart and soul to identify with, even root for, whereas Jarrod's misplaced anger provides the memorable funny lines to repeat.
In actuality the film fits more appropriately within the tradition of idiosyncratic, character driven modern antipodean cinema. The backdrop of a run-down suburban New Zealand might be a world away from the beautiful landscapes portrayed in Lord of the Rings, but the film does possess echoes of recent antipodean hits such as Strictly Ballroom, An Angel at My Table, Muriel's Wedding and even Chopper. In that respect, Eagle vs Shark is more reality based then the (at times) absurd Napoleon Dynamite.
It's interesting to note though that when they made Napoleon Dynamite into an American TV animated show, in 2012, who should turn up as Professor Koontz ? Only Jermaine Clement, that's who. So they definitely do have cross over aspects and appeal.
Comedy, Arthouse, Romance and Sundance Success
Another interesting facet of Eagle vs Shark is the way the film is interrupted at various points by funny little animations. These sketches help to illuminate the main crux of the story in a subtle but entertainingly arthouse manner. As a side note, back in the day, on his myspace website, Waititi himself described his film as:
"The first ever New Zealand arthouse romantic comedy".
Waititi developed Eagle vs Shark with the help of the Sundance Director's Lab, and it was well received at its inaugural Sundance screening during the 2007 festival. So, another example of Sundance fostering talent that goes on to prosper in the industry. What would we do without them?