Before Taika Waititi showed us what we did in the shadows and took us on a hunt for the wilderpeople, his first feature film was an offbeat romantic comedy.
Lily (Loren Horsley) is a shy, quiet, introverted fast food worker (“Welcome to Meaty Boy. Can I take your order?”) with a huge crush on Jarrod (Jermaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords and more recently the huge shiny crab in Moana). He works in a nearby electronics store and comes in every day for his lunch, but he seems totally oblivious to her, instead preferring to make stilted conversation with her workmate Jenny. So much so that with his birthday coming up, he asks Lily to invite Jenny to his party, where the theme is “Dress as you Favourite Animal”. Although Jenny has no interest at all, Lily fishes it out of the bin and decides that this is her chance.
At the party, Lily and her brother Damon (Joel Tobeck, Baal in the most recent season of Ash vs The Evil Dead) are one of only a few guests. Lily is dressed as a shark, Damon is a spider, and Jarrod is a eagle. She impresses everyone with her computer skills in the Fighting Man video game tournament, making it all the way to the final before losing to reigning champion Jarrod – although she spends the final fight just staring at him. The two of them bond and have sex later in the night.
Jarrod and Lily start spending time together, until Jarrod stands up Lily when they arrange a cinema date. It turns out that his high school bully is returning to his hometown, and that he needs to get revenge on him. He is upset that he doesn’t have any way of getting back there without a car, but Damon does, so he takes Jarrod and Lily to the small country town that the rest of Jarrod’s family still lives in. Their plan to spend a week together gets off to a decent start when Lily meets his odd ball relatives (despite having to sleep in a tent), but the strain soon starts to tell on the new couple. Why does he need to impress his dad so desperately? Will Jarrod’s quest for revenge bend their relationship too far?
Eagle Vs Shark is a film that feels familiar in the set up . These are quirky, off-beat characters who find happiness despite their socially ineptitude. The performances of Loren Horsley and Jermaine Clement make this very enjoyable however, and Damon as the nice guy brother is a nice addition. When the “action” moves to small town New Zealand (or smaller town New Zealand) that the film really finds its unique voice. Jarrod’s family includes a brilliant Rachel House (the child agency officer from Hunt For The Wilderpeople) performance as his sister, who sells make-up and tracksuits (AWESOME apparel!). There’s also a slow reveal of the secrets of Jarrod’s family that gives the characters more depth than a lot of similar films.
It’s pretty remarkable what Taika Waititi has gone on to do since this first film with What We Do In The Shadows and last year’s excellent Hunt For The Wilderpeople. There are stop motion interludes, but otherwise this is a pretty straight forward, indie rom-com. There are excellent flourishes and plenty of both sparky and deadpan comedy, but there are still some rough edges. This definitely makes 2010’s Boy one of my next purchases on Amazon Prime though.
This is a film that is pretty slow moving and low key, in the vein of that series of indie films that got more attention and wider releases following Napoleon Dynamite’s success. There’s a warmth to the film that makes it stand out for me, but I can see why reaction is pretty mixed.I have to say it’s probably worth watching for the final “battle” between Jarrod and his bully.
Until next time, stay gold Ponyboy, stay gold. See you soonish.
PS As a special treat for reading all the way to the end, here’s a drawing of some kitties acting out a scene from the party.