November 14, 2010

'Eagle vs. Shark' Review

Eagle vs. Shark is a loser's love story -- daft, sweet, awkward and amusingly rude, in an obviously Napoleon Dynamite style of delivery. It's a name-tag romance launched in a New Zealand mall food court. And this Kiwi crush is sorely and hilariously tested by the arrogant ineptitude of the doofus who is the object of the crush. It's enough to give hope to the most lovelorn.

Loren Horsely is Lily, the social leper who runs a register at the Meaty Burger. Jemaine Clement is Jarrod, the clueless videogame store clerk who doesn't pick up on her signals as he stops by each day to get his Meaty Meal.

But one misdirected party invitation later, she's dressed as a shark at his "come as your favorite animal" party. And she's challenging the eagle-suited Jarrod at "Fight Man," the violent video game that he has mastered and that he insists be the finale to any Jarrod party. She lets him win.

Lily is laid off from work. She lives at home with her brother. But that doesn't matter. Now she has a man. "You're pretty beautiful," Mr. Smooth tells her.
"You wanna kiss?"
"Yup. "
"On the lips, though?"

He looks too rugged to be the cliched video game loser. She has to get past those looks, listen and learn. But it's only after sex that she sees Jarrod's dark side. He has a high school nemesis whom he has never forgiven, a bully he wants to go back to his hometown and fight. He cooly says he has a mission, to "kill a man." Lily-in-love comes along for the ride.

This Sundance-backed indie film works the quirky side of the street in between Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine. Jarrod's jerkiness, his determination to use Lily as some sort of practice girlfriend, the gaping wound at the heart of his family's dopey dysfunction, all sit astride goofy dialogue and scenes that take exactly the opposite direction you expect them to.

Eagle vs. Shark's playfulness extends to little pixilated interludes of stop-motion animation that illustrate the success or failure of the romance. They're fighting, his sleeping bag jump-cuts away from hers. And her sleeping bag jump-cuts in pursuit.

The characters are almost caricatures, but perfectly recognizable as human beings. Yes, there truly is somebody for everybody, even the losers, and that's what gives Eagle vs. Shark its sweetness. In the real world, nerds have sex, fall in love, get married and have kids, though they may do some of these things more awkwardly than others. A revelation in the history of nerds on film, this film is a sincere work that treats nerds as human beings, rather than punching bags. “I’m a loser, aren’t I?” Jarrod asks Lily at one point in the film. Her note-perfect nerd-girl response... “Doesn’t matter.”

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