Lily (Horsley) is a loser. She dreams of nothing in life but attracting the affections of Jarrod (Clement), a fellow loser who’s a regular customer at the fast food restaurant where she works. But Jarrod is having trouble committing, because he’s got revenge on his mind…
It is often Hollywood rule that geeks are Calvin Klein models with Harry Palmer glasses and mildly unflattering fringes, to be brushed romantically aside at some point in the final reel, thus rendering their inner beauty external. Eagle Vs Shark has no such airbrushed view. The nearest either of its dweeby leads gets to a makeover is pulling on an ill-fitting shell suit and moving their parting a couple of millimetres to the left to denote party time.
Ugly as they may be, writer/director Taika Waititi loves his star-crossed geeks, and it’s this affection that makes the film such an inclusive, delightful experience, free of the sneer that blights the lips of many a movie about the popularity-challenged. His leads might sound like rejects from any number of Napoleon Dynamite wannabes - Lily (Loren Horsley) is a blot at shopping mall fastfoodery Meaty Boy, where she projects her dreams on the Cro-Magnon brow of Jarrod (Jemaine Clement); Jarrod is oblivious to all around him, particularly Lily, as he dedicates his energy to becoming a fighting machine and wreaking vengeance on a childhood bully - but Waititi always keeps his story grounded in character, not caricature.
Lily and Jarrod’s slow realisation that there’s more to life than perfecting your score on Fight Man or nervously chatting yourself up in the mirror might be one most people make aged 14, but adolescent awkwardness still strikes a chord, even if those experiencing it are at least a decade on from their first hormone eruption.
Waititi is of that peculiarly Antipodean school of filmmaking that dictates all visuals must be slightly glum and all characters a little freakish, yet somehow insightful, but he nails his tone. Much of the movie’s charm must also be attributed to Horsley and Clement’s easy rapport. Horsley’s performance is one of quiet comedy brilliance: her cow-eyed earnestness is adorable and her lip-chewing serves as the perfect silent punchline to almost any joke. Clement is an unlovable but hilarious rock throughout, constantly puffing up his own ego only to have it quickly punctured by his pathetic reality. You wouldn’t want to be seen with either of them in public, but they’re a wonderful pair to enjoy in a cinema where nobody can see you.
So quirky that it’s almost in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own antic whimsy at times, but a comic delight destined for cult adoration.