Fuck Napoleon Dynamite. Ah, that felt good. I wanted to start (and perhaps end) my illustrious Pajiba movie reviewing career with a bang and now that the deed’s done we can proceed along in a much more reasonable manner. That’s years of Oprah book club o’ the month reading in action for you folks. If you will it, it is no dream.
But back to the lecture at hand, a little movie called Eagle vs. Shark. The reason I’m going after Heder and Co. right off the bat is simply because everyone is comparing this movie to that one. I’ve seen at least five reviews reference Napoleon when discussing Eagle vs. Shark (and I guess mine makes six), but this is a stupid comparison because they are two very different animals, and you’d find as much relevance in comparing Eagle vs. Shark to Fargo or Punch Drunk Love. The only thing all of them have in common is that they’re different from cut and paste screenplays — so evidently certain pea brains don’t know what to do with them. This is not New Zealand’s answer to Napoleon Dynamite, and why the hell would a whole damn nation need to answer such a film anyway? Wouldn’t they first want to tackle the heavyweights that are crying out for answers; films like Miss Congeniality 2: Armed & Fabulous? Furthermore Eagle vs. Shark is truly funny, while Nappy only has moments of humor wrapped around the overall concept of quirkiness. Eagle has a romantic angle, Nappy has a dancing angle. So I don’t think that if you liked/hated Dynamite you’ll automatically like/hate this. They’re far different movies, and let’s all open our minds and reflect that this one deserves a chance based upon its own merits.
Eagle vs. Shark is the story of Lily (Loren Horsley) and Jarrod (Jemaine Clement), two Kiwis who become smitten with each other. Perhaps smitten is too strong a word as neither are traditional leads with the overarching emotional transparency needed for something like smitten requires. Both of these characters are oddballs. They’re the people that the real romantic leads (think Julia Roberts and Brad Pitt from The Mexican) realize they never want to become and so they might as just well make this “happily ever after thing” work out. They’re Zooey Deschanel, the girl behind everyone and just off to the right out of focus. Lily starts the movie as a cashier for a lovely satirical mall burger chain named Meaty Boy. Jarrod works at an Electronics Boutique style store.
As you can probably guess, they meet and the story wobbles along from there. That’s the only real complaint I have with Eagle vs. Shark — the overall meandering factor. As the director (Taika Cohen) feels no real allegiance to the romantic comedy genre he pretty much throws in what he wants. Most really works, the occasional minute or two doesn’t. You’ll get some loopy stop-motion animation and a bit of attempted symbolism that really isn’t symbolic. The punch lines are far more subtle than anything mainstream, and only about an inch away from reality. It is interesting to note that certain comedies are headed this way anyway, something like Knocked Up doesn’t shout in the same way as The Wedding Crashers but instead of riffing on a topic like “schmabortion” the characters themselves in Eagle vs. Shark are funny to watch. One of the great lines from the movie is “I’m too complex!” It’s said with full confidence; there’s not one shred of irony behind the delivery. I won’t tell you who spouts it, that’s spoiling, but it’s a prime example of the laughs to be mined in leering at goofballs.
The other great thing about Eagle vs. Shark is that it is completely unpredictable. When you’ve got a loose cannon director and a budget around 35 cents you’re not beholden to anything even resembling marketability. You can do what you want. Taika does, to his credit, and some of the best moments of this film are when you have to watch in horror at the action unfolding. Comedy comes from zigging when a zag is expected and this one is all zag. So just enjoy it, you’re not meant to “figure it out.”
If there is one thing that Heder’s Napoleon has in common with everyone in this movie, it’s the overall awkwardness factor (but again, Little Miss Sunshine, Rushmore, find some new analogies you bastards). This is a movie worth buying a ticket to, if only so you can feel cooler than the other kids at school. While they’re off quoting Ocean’s 13 lines you can rest content in knowing that none of the stuff you might quote would make any sense outside of the movie’s context. After all, isn’t real “hep catness” not based on any particular need to feel cool? As Lily her own self opines on a conceptual candle derided for having the audacity to be made in the shape of a hand: “Well, I fink it’s cool.”
Henry Hobbes is a freelance reviewer just looking for a good home. He gets down on the west coast, home of the Pacific Time Zone. You can email him here.
Eagle vs. Shark / Henry Hobbes
Film Reviews | June 18, 2007 | Comments ()