Oh boy, what a sweet little film. You will probably remember a few weeks ago when I lost my mind over a film called What We Do in the Shadows. Turns out, the director of that film, Taika Waititi, is actually a pretty brilliant guy, so I sought out some of his other films as well, and one that really struck me was Eagle vs Shark, a quirky and lovely little independent romantic comedy that might not come close to the brilliance of What We Do In the Shadows, but it is still extraordinarily cute and wonderfully witty little film that proves the wonderful talents in New Zealand.
The two lead roles are occupied by two very talented performers. Jemaine Clement, who was fantastic in What We Do In the Shadows, was wonderfully droll and awkward here, playing Jarrod, the cynical and socially inept man-child who is the titular eagle. The shark that the title refers to is Loren Taylor, who gives a truly star-making turn as the sweet, sensitive and very quiet Lily. The idea of the pretty shy girl coming out of her shell is not at all a new concept to cinema, but the role of Lily demands a different level of performance that we rarely see in mainstream films. The two have fantastic chemistry, and show a type of relationship that films very seldom are able to capture without entering levels of schmaltz or false emotion.
Hollywood is no stranger to the romantic comedy. It has existed as long as films have been made. However, in recent years, there have been attempts to make films that show a romance not between regular, popular people, but instead showing a different side to romance, and showing the budding love between two socially awkward or “odd” people. A lot of these films feature the unfortunate stereotype of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and words such as “adorkable” have resulted due to these kinds of films (I’m not mentioning names though…). Eagle vs Shark is different to these films in several ways. For starters, many of those films have a male-centered story, such as 500 Days of Summer and Napoleon Dynamite. Eagle vs Shark has the main focus through Lily’s experiences, and like in The Lady Eve, our leading actress is much more likable and intelligent than the male lead, which reverses the deep-rooted gender imbalance in cinema.
There isn’t much to say about Eagle vs Shark. It isn’t groundbreaking in any way, and as a whole, it is pretty forgettable, but I mean that in the best way possible, trust me. It isn’t a film that ever tries to be bold. It is calm, quiet and passes by very quickly, and if you blink, you’ll miss it. I think a film like this would be fun in a cinema in an advertised release like normal films tend to be, but I think that the most effective way for this film to be seen is to be stumbled upon by accident, and to be a discovery. It is one of those films that have a very odd premise that prevents it from being truly mainstream, but hopefully will gain a bit of a following. Much like What We Do in the Shadows, it is a very strange little film that will have a very small but dedicated fanbase. While I don’t see it having a cult following like What We Do in the Shadows, it will certainly have its fans. I know its wrong to compare the two films – the one is a brilliantly bold horror comedy, the other a shy little indie romance, but they were borne from the same brilliant minds, so instead of being contrastive, they instead serve to show a new, exciting voice in cinema in Taika Waititi.
On its own, Eagle vs Shark has some extraordinary merits – it is very funny, sweet as syrup and most importantly has something mainstream romantic comedies very rarely do – genuine heart. The emotion in this film is so real and raw, you will most likely find yourself laughing away with great joy, and on the verge of tears. If the final scene of the film doesn’t move you, even a little bit, you have a heart of stone.
Eagle vs Shark doesn’t do anything new, but it does do what it sets out to do effectively. It will surely be a divisive film – some will see it as a cute, quirky little discovery, others will see it as relentless hipster bait. I see it as something wonderfully small and genuinely heartwarming, and if you are someone who enjoys these type of inoffensive, sugary-sweet little films, this is the one for you. If you are in the mood for something edgier, then may I suggest another film from Mr. Waititi? I won’t say which one, but I am pretty sure you know which one I’m talking about…