There is an alarming drought of good romantic misfit movies, which is why Eagle Vs. Shark should come as a pleasant surprise to those who are wearing out their copies of Ghost World and American Splendor. Give Seymour and Enid and Harvey and Joyce a week off, and meet Lily and Jarrod, the latest pair of awkward, fumbling outcasts to be struck by Cupid’s off-kilter arrow.
Eagle Vs. Shark gets its title from one of the first scenes between the literal “odd couple”: Lily (Loren Horsley), a failed fast food server with a massive crush on electronic store clerk Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), crashes his “dress as your favorite animal” party. She shows up as a shark; he is an eagle, a choice he deems “slightly better.” Once he sees her annihilate the other players in a video game, he warms up to her—how could he not, they even have matching facial moles.
In a more mainstream movie, the couple would start dating, fall madly in love and gradually start to dress better, become more social and join the nearest country club--basically using their affection as a launching pad to eradicate their dorky ways. Not here. Eagle Vs. Shark celebrates these characters and the fact that they dare to be different; it’s essentially a crinkled love note to people who don’t quite fit.
Talented New Zealand writer/director Taika Waititi, who earned an Oscar nod for his short film Two Cars, One Night, gives Lily and Jarrod their own sets of personal issues but never patronizes them. Following the flick’s unconventional ways, they actually spend most of the movie trying to figure out how to be together, rather than enjoying the early buzz of a relationship. This is mainly due to Jarrod’s crazy mission to unleash his inner ninja on an old high school bully from 10 years ago.
For this reason, despite its playful whimsy, Eagle Vs. Shark can be very frustrating. In the press notes, Waititi describes Jarrod as “all the very worst traits of every male you’ve ever known, including myself, plonked into one package.” And while that gives Clement the chance to make him hilariously squirm-inducing, it is also hard to watch him carelessly (and frequently) dismiss Lily, easily the most loveable character to hit the screen in recent memory. If she doesn’t run away with your heart in this movie, you might want to check your pulse.
The film’s off-putting humor and polarizing anti-hero will remind many of Napoleon Dynamite and Buffalo 66, with the added perk of gorgeous New Zealand scenery and a catchy soundtrack by Phoenix Foundation. Not everything gels perfectly in Eagle Vs. Shark--including a few scenes with stop-motion animation, which add nothing to the story--but it’s endearing to spend 87 minutes with characters who could care less what you think of them. Talk about revenge of the nerds.