It took me a while to write this review because I really wanted to like the film. Honestly, I did. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, for me it just didn’t work. Okay, to be fair, a lot of films don’t work. So why am I so concerned about this particular effort? Because it was so close to working that I want to reward the effort and encourage writer/director Taika Waititi to make more films!
Eagle vs Shark is a story about two lost, lonely, socially awkward people who find each other and try to hang on through everything that life throws at them. Sort of. By the end of the film you realize that’s what it’s supposed to be about but the ride to the conclusion leaves you just a little bit befuddled. When the film opens we meet Lily, played to perfection by Loren Horsley. She is the personification of social outcast. Her body language screams uncomfortable and her eyes are always darting, always searching for where the next attack is going to come from. She works at a fast food restaurant where the highlight of her day is the appearance of Jarod, a worker in a nearby electronics store. For Lily, Jarrod is perfection. He is tall and handsome and shares a distinctive facial mole. For the audience, though, we see Jarrod as an unwitting jerk. He doesn’t mean to dismiss Lily’s stuttering advances but he just doesn’t see her as a person. We feel her pain.
Life for Lily goes from bad to worse as she gets fired and Jarrod shows up just to invite her co-worker to a “come-as-your-favorite-animal” costume party. Lily’s only consolation, her optimistic stab at a positive outcome, is digging the invitation out of the trash and crashing Jarrod’s party, her brother in tow as her date.
It’s this party where things change. Lily shows up as a shark while Jarrod is the eagle to complete the battle of the title. By the end of the evening, Lily has finally caught Jarrod’s eye and the two have become an item. The big question, as the film proceeds, is why they stay together. It’s easy to see why Jarrod wants to be with Lily; she supports him, encourages him, helps him solve his problems. Why she wants to do all of these things, however, is still open for debate. Jarrod, embodied by Jemaine Clement, treats Lily as if she were an afterthought. He is every fantasy role player you knew in high school who never grew out of the phase where they thought it was real. He doesn’t know how to deal with another person without dragging them into his own private universe, whether they want to go or not.
Things go from bad to worse when the couple heads back to Jarrod’s childhood home and we meet the rest of his family. It is here where we begin to learn the truth and see the seeds of Jarrod’s dysfunction. Lily tries, but Jarrod’s pure social ineptness is almost impossible to handle. Ironically, Lily fits in with the family and it is their connection, their humanity which allows her to find the strength to stick out the week she promised to be there.
In the last five minutes, Waititi finally allows us in to see a little of what Lily must have seen in Jarrod. The big oaf is, at last, able to show some real emotion rather than the manufactured angst it seems he’s been hiding behind for the previous 70 minutes. Director Taika Waititi recently explained he never intended to make Eagle vs Shark first. It was supposed to be his second feature. Now though, he’s gotten all the mistakes and nervousness out of the way and I, for one, am looking forward to his first film, which he just happens to be filming next.
(Originally published at FirstShowing.net)