Judge Kristin Munson can't wait for the action-packed Australian remake, Wombat Vs Emu. Her money's on the wombat.
We're all chum in the shark-infested waters of love.
We all know how these misfit comedies play out by now. Geeky boy does everything he can to get laid by hot girl before the credits role, succeeding against all odds. In this case, our geeky boy is a twenty-something woman, her hot girl is an equally inept guy, and she gets him in bed early on. This leaves sixty minutes to fill with clumsy romance and dawdling character development.
Despite a Livejournal campaign and some MySpace advertising, the New Zealand-made Eagle Vs Shark played in a whopping twenty theaters in the U.S. and promptly disappeared. While it revels in its outcast characters, its comic style is an acquired taste.
Facts of the Case
Poor shy Lily (Loren Horsley) spends her days working at a burger joint and nursing a crush on Jarrod (Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords), a clerk at a nearby video game store. When she crashes his costume party hoping to win his heart, she has no idea she'll end up in his hometown helping him get revenge on a high-school bully. All Lily wanted was a boyfriend, what she got was a man-child on a mission.
Very few things can melt my cynical candy shell, exposing the nougat center of utter dork beneath. New Zealand accents are one of those things. When presented with a real live kiwi, I devolve into a giggling, simpering klutz, unable to assemble a coherent sentence. Coworkers find this hilarious (New Zealanders, not so much). Pairing kiwi accents with social outcasts is like putting peanut butter in my chocolate, so I was looking forward to Eagle Vs Shark.
The movie takes place in a world almost entirely populated by awkward characters and pained silences, and spends the first twenty minutes begging to have its quirkiness acknowledged. "My characters wear terrible outfits! Everything looks like the '80s! There's a movie theater with a dinosaur head entrance! With teeth people trip over! Madness!" Thankfully, the longer the movie runs, the less absurd it gets and, slowly and surprisingly, becomes completely charming.
What sucked me in was that it isn't anything like the typical romantic comedy. The sweetest relationship in the movie is between Lily and her equally awkward brother Damon—who serves as sibling, parent, and only friend—and the humor comes from the utter seriousness that everyone plays their clumsy roles. Jarrod is a jerk and a blowhard and, even after we've met his dysfunctional family and discovered the reason he's the way he is, he never stops being portrayed as an ass. It plays out like normal life and, once the quirky dust finally settles, you recognize characters as people you know and can empathize with.
Every actor delivers their lines completely straight and never tries to sell the joke. Joel Tobeck, playing someone nice for quite possibly the first time in his career, does well as mothering brother Damon but the flick belongs to Loren Horsley. The uncomplaining Lily gets dumped on for most of the movie but Horsley makes her endearing rather than pitiful, especially in the way she physically shrinks around others but keeps her eyes wide and hopeful. When she smiles she pushes her mouth halfway up one side of her face, like an abandoned seesaw.
The 5.1 stereo is a lovely bit of overkill, since the back speakers only get used by the alternative pop songs populating the soundtrack and the anamorphic transfer makes a beautiful country even more beautiful. The movie is awash with color, from Pacific sunsets to tacky home decor and everything looks as though you could reach out and touch it.
For such a small film, Miramax has outdone itself with bonus offerings. There's some outtakes and a music video, two sets of subtitles, and closed captioning. Finally, a studio that gets it! Now people can see that Jarrod is calling Lily "the best" and not "the beast." There's also optional commentary on the deleted scenes and the main feature with writer/director Taika Waititi and a rotation of actors.
The commentary is flip and how much you'll get out of it depends on whether you're more interested in the process or the cast; Waititi doesn't know the names of any equipment but he has anecdotes for every actor, since they're all longtime friends. To break things up, Loren Horsley, Joel Tobeck, and Craig Hall each pop in for a stint, although poor Craig only gets about ten minutes to speak, including his one deleted scene. "Kiwis hate famous people," Waititi explains early on, which could explain his somewhat lax approach to the commentary. At one point, while he's recording with Horsley, he takes a personal call from another cast member while the movie continues to run.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As wonderful as Lily is, she's one half of a couple, and Jarrod makes it hard to root for the pairing. There's never a convincing reason why she likes him beyond her initial crush: he's selfish and mean with only a smidgen of personal growth. There's more of a love story to be found with the parentless Lily being embraced by Jarrod's screwed-up family. While I loved seeing her discover a place where she fits in by being herself, the romance is dead in the water.
How much you'll like Eagle Vs Shark depends on two factors: how much quirkiness you can stand and the level of dysfunction in your own family. If you were ever the weird kid at school, just felt like you were, or are the odd one out in a very odd family, then all of this will be excruciatingly funny and familiar. If not, these characters may seem like pathetic, irritating losers.
The DVD isn't available for the verdict? Well when you see him, tell him that Justice is waiting for him.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with Director
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