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Reviewed by:
  • Eagle vs Shark
  • Joel Moffett
Eagle vs Shark. DVD/35mm, 88 minutes, color, 2007. Written and directed by Taika Waititi. Produced by Ainsley Gardiner and Cliff Curtis. Executive Producer: Emanuel Michael. Created by Miramax Films and Whenua Films Ltd in association with the New Zealand Film Commission and Unison Films. Languages: English and Spanish; subtitles: English, French, Spanish. Distributed by Miramax Films. US$19.99.

Eagle vs Shark is a film in which dorky posers obsessively try to win games they all seem destined to loose. In the backwards metropolis of urban New Zealand, Jarrod works as a video-game salesman at Screenblasterz, while nearby his secret admirer, Lily, serves up burgers at Meaty Boy. When Lily is fired from her cherished fast-food job for being unpopular, she throws caution to the wind and crashes Jarrod's exclusive "animal party." Jarrod, dressed as an eagle, is impressed by Lily's shark costume and even more impressed by her video-game skills. They soon end up in Jarrod's bedroom where he shows off his most promising art projects, which seem hopelessly unpromising. After awkwardly consummating their new relationship, the viewers quickly discover Jarrod has a hidden dark side. He is obsessed with returning to his childhood home to "kick the ass" of his high school nemesis Eric, a Samoan bully, who, according to Jarrod, is responsible for ruining his life. "I used to be a bit of a nerd," Jarrod confesses.

Lily is seduced by Jarrod's need to win, and in classic codependent form she quickly enlists her brother to give them a ride out to Jarrod's small, country town. Here, Lily discovers the true nature of Jarrod's problem lies more in his relationship with his dysfunctional family than with any Samoan tough guy. Jarrod is consumed with gaining love from his oblivious father, who lives in a constant state of mourning over the mysterious death of Jarrod's heroic brother. Lily learns that Jarrod wants to reclaim his brother's lost throne, and restore his dad's happiness by taking on his high school nemesis and becoming the new family hero. The problem is that no matter how hard Jarrod practices his karate moves for the big fight, his inner geek betrays him. But, following a humiliating defeat, Lily is the one person who still accepts him. Unlike Jarrod, Lily is not obsessed with denying her nerdiness. In accepting herself she is able to accept Jarrod, and in the end, helps Jarrod do the same.

Developed at the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters Lab, Eagle [End Page 200] vs Shark is the debut feature film by writer-director Taika Waititi. Before making this film, Waititi was best known for his Oscar nominated short, Two Cars, One Night, and his work with Jemaine Clement in the comedy duo "Humorbeasts." Clement (who plays Jarrod in Eagle vs Shark) is a comic genius and very much grounds the film with his unique passive-aggressive presence. Loren Horsley, who plays Lily, does a fantastic job at playing the "straight man" to Clement, and effectively navigates her character through this sweet story without falling into the trap of sentimentality.

Although this story fits into a genre with Napoleon Dynamite, Rushmore, and a host of other ironic comedies, Eagle vs Shark is a unique film because of the culturally specific nature of its world. Waititi sets the story in his native New Zealand, and although he packs the film with eccentric local characters, he deliberately shies away from drawing specific attention to issues of Mäori culture. In fact, neither New Zealand nor any town within it is ever mentioned by name in the entire movie. Rather, the film uses the modern mixed-race culture of New Zealand as a universal example of our world culture, where average "losers" obsess over turning themselves into "winners."

Eagle vs Shark metaphorically comments on this human dilemma in its depiction of the New Zealand landscapes. So just as Jarrod continuously lies and tries to hide his inner self under a veil of cool, Waititi initially conceals the natural New Zealand environment, portraying it as a place trying to be a hip, modern metropolis...


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pp. 200-202
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