By Will (Radlett)
Taika Waititi is nowadays known as a massively up and coming director, with A-list Marvels under his belt such as Thor: Ragnarok and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, but such a status hadn’t yet been established in 2007, with one of his earlier films Eagle vs Shark. Lily is a social outcast with a crush Jarrod. That much is made clear from the opening shot, and once she swings an invite to his “dress as your favourite animal” party, they hit it off over a game of Fight Man, and before we know it Lily’s brother is giving Jarrod and Lily a lift to Jarrod’s home town to stay at his childhood home while he trains for and eventually has his revenge fight with his childhood bully. Over this time, we see their relationship’s ups and downs, through the lens of both of their social incompetence.
Eagle vs Shark is a film about escapism from reality, to a world where things are a lot nicer than the one our protagonists currently live in. Lily sees a documentary of a powerful shark and so dons the outfit at Jarrod’s party, while he goes as an eagle (a creature that can fly, while his real trauma stems from his brother’s suicide by jumping off a cliff close to his childhood home). His tunnel vision about this fight occupies most of his mind (leading to the ending of his and Lily’s relationship), and subsequently facing the reality of his brother’s suicide becomes another time’s problem.
The film’s depiction of social awkwardness and desire in the face of it (Lily’s desire to be loved, Jarrod’s father’s desire for a winning son etc.) is what generates most of this film’s charm. Thankfully, however, Waititi has refined his style over the last decade, as this film isn’t without problems. The awkwardness created by the characters leads to some amusing moments (especially through Jarrod’s hobbies), but it could be argued that the film is too awkward for its own good. The characters become caricatures of themselves which detracts from any emotional investment we are supposed to put in them.
The reasons for characters acting the way they do is understood, but never felt. E.g. Jarrod’s big fight is seen to be misplacement of his focus as opposed to his obvious trauma, but his social awkwardness means we never get a sense of his sadness, and subsequently don’t care about it. The same goes for the protagonist’s relationship – seeing that Lily just wants to be loved is a different thing from yearning for the two to figure it out, since healthy, loving human interaction is what they both need.
It’s hard to come away from watching Eagle vs Shark without feeling at least a little bit endeared by the sweet performances, clunky dialogue and abstract stop-motion sequences, but it just doesn’t quite correctly toe the line between presenting us with socially awkward characters that are both amusing and relatable, and for that reason the story ends up falling somewhat short.