Eagle vs Shark Taika Waititi

Eagle vs Shark Taika Waititi
What hath Jared Hess wrought? Eagle vs Shark has been subjected to constant Napoleon Dynamite comparisons but for a good reason. It’s difficult to watch New Zealander Taika Waititi’s film and not consider it heavily influenced (read: borderline plagiaristic) by the offbeat indie style and socially inept characters of Dynamite.

Set in his home country, Waititi’s script concerns Lily (co-writer Loren Horsley) and Jarrod (Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement), two star-crossed über-geeks that hook up at Jarrod’s animal costume party, which explains the title and misleadingly cute movie posters.

Lily is a mousy pushover of a woman desperate to find a man to make her happy. So desperate is she that she dreams of Jarrod, a man that could rival Napoleon for his severe case of social disconnection — not only is he proud of his Fight Man dominance (of course he’s a gamer!), he also makes candles and dresses like an extreme fundamentalist hipster, although so ironic is his garb that he’s completely oblivious to his "hipness.” But Jarrod’s also "totally complex” and in need of fulfilling his mission to fight his old high school nemesis — an event so important that it both sets up what is supposed to be a hilarious climax and drags down whatever sentimental touch we’re supposed to feel.

Like Napoleon Dynamite, it’s all caustically deadpan humour, which is its downfall — that brand of sneering in-joke telling works only with great scripts, actors with comic timing and sharp imaginations, and Eagle vs. Shark isolates the viewer, possessing none of these elements. Even the heavy traces of drama, like the suicide of Jarrod’s brother or the sadly enormous boundaries between his family, feel like an underhanded attempt to make this deeper than it really is.

Fans of indie cinema might find something in here but only because it’s so self-indulgent in its attempt to be different. A Kiwi’s take on Napoleon Dynamite? Sure, but it’s nowhere near as funny as that idea suggests — and I didn’t even like Napoleon Dynamite. (Alliance Atlantis)