Film Review: Eagle vs. Shark
The romantic-comedies that Hollywood fast tracks idealize the romance to death and torpedoe the comedy out the window. The premises are relationships are so far-fetched that it wouldn’t surprise me the least to see space aliens chasing Matthew McConaughey while he was chasing the like of Jennifer Lopez or Sarah Jessica Parker. Yet, this summers “Eagle vs. Shark” (opening today at the Chez Artiste) is a potpourri of American films that have reached the coveted upper echelon of hipster cinema, while telling a tender tale of New Zealand’s two most awkward star-crossed lovers.
This film will get the common criticism of being the un-official
Southern Hemisphere sequel to Napoleon Dynamite, but that is just lazy
reviewing. Besides, Fritz Godard would never stand for, or support, such
a blatant rip-off. There is more heart in the first twenty minutes of
the film than in all of Jared Hess’ films. Filmmaker Taika Waititi
knows how to combine the proper film appreciation and independent
creativity into every shot. He knows how to craft characters. Usually,
the awkward and socially incompetent characters are the flat buddy
characters that will flank the hero and be good for a cheap laugh every
four scenes, but he crams the screen with bumbling idiots and dares to
suggest that ugly people also fall in love. This set-up may sound like
the episodic Napoleon, but when we laughed at his pain, we hurt here
with these characters. However, the tender squeeze on the heart doesn’t
keep the audience from laughing when the characters fall on their face.
One of the characters is constantly repeating embarrassing
catch-phrases from movies, and every time he drops a Terminator “I’ll
be back” his sister Lily (Loren Horsley) laughs with pure joy; though
Lily’s laughter stops when she needs his supportive shoulder and is
only met with an empty Bond impression. This character is Waititi’s
thesis statement to filmmaking: Take what you need to get a laugh, but
when it comes to the heart of the story you can’t rely on what has come
before. The characters may feel familiar, but the microscope that is
used to study them shows the tiny sources that make their flaws
hilarious and falls hurt.
The story is set in motion when Lily scams her way to Jarrod’s (Jemaine
Clement, who, by the way, has become my new comic hero in part to this
movie and his amazing show on HBO “Flight of the Conchords”) party
where costumed guest participate in a video game battle royal. She
wants Jarrod, and Jarrod, being New Zealand’s biggest dork and second
biggest asshole, wants very little to do with her. He is content
building a façade that resembles the bullies of his high school youth.
His social ineptness and pseudo-confidence only works because he
surrounds himself with an equally weak posse, mostly made up of
elementary children, who idolize him and his video game abilities. The
film places the majority of comic elements on the shoulders of Jarrod,
leaving the majority of the romantic elements to Lily.
The mood of the film feeds off the soundtrack, a soundtrack that won’t
be touted “indie-tastic” by Clear Channel or any of its subsidiaries.
The music perfectly complements the film, making it richer on the
whole. Near the climax of the film, when Jarrod corrects Lily on her
wrong lyrics of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” everyone in the theater will
know it’s a musical queue for the song to begin. Waititi has the
foresight to know the original will steal the scene, and instead opts
for the mellow cover by M. Ward. Ward’s ghostly vocals glide the stop
motion sleeping bag chase sequence along perfectly.
Hipster cash can be precious and the price of a movie ticket is
usually equal to three or four PBRs, but this film is worth shelling
out the cash for. This is a film built around characters forged from
the forgotten dark hole in the soul where awkward love survived.