Sometimes, when things are bad you have to blame them on somebody else, like a previous filmmaker. In the case of 2007's bittersweet, romantic comedy "Eagle Vs. Shark," the first feature film from New Zealand writer-director Taika Waititi, you can blame its tone and demeanor on Jared Hess's 2004 sleeper hit "Napoleon Dynamite." Waititi adopts almost exactly the same laid-back style, with the same emotionally detached characters speaking in the same monotonous, staccato manner. Now, think of "Eagle Vs. Shark" as a "Napoleon Dynamite" with almost none of the charm or humor.
We've had all kinds of different takes on the conventional romantic comedy over the years (with "Harold and Maude" being one of the most unusual). Waititi also takes an unconventional approach in "Eagle Vs. Shark," not by using people of considerably different ages, but by pairing up two social misfits. It might have worked, too, if he hadn't filled his film with as many other social misfits as he did. The fact is, all the characters in "Eagle Vs. Shark" look like they're bored out of their minds, annoyed with life, and trying desperately to escape into another, any other, world.
The two main characters are Lily McKinnon (Loren Horsley) and Jarrod Lough (Jermaine Clement), a pair of young, single people, mid-to-late twenties, living in a midsized New Zealand town. She works behind the counter at a "Meaty Boy" fast-food burger joint, and he works at a "Screen Blasterz" video game store. Neither of them is in the least equipped to deal with the public, as both of them are awkward and clumsy around people.
Lily is lonely. She says she's had only a couple of boyfriends in her past, and now she's resorted to talking to herself in the mirror. She lives with her brother, Damon (Joel Tobeck), who is also single. Maybe it runs in the family. Jarrod is lonely, too, says he's had several girlfriends but one cannot imagine how or why, and suffers from bouts of depression.
They get together after a party Jarrod throws where he invites people to come dressed as their favorite animal. Lily comes as a shark; Jarrod dresses as an eagle. I suppose both costumes represent their inner feelings; it's hard to tell. Lily attracts Jarrod's attention because she is a good video game player, and Jarrod attracts Lily's attention because he's breathing. Given that everybody at the party is as equally nerdy, odd, and socially repressed as Lily and Jarrod, it's amazing that they even noticed each other.
But love will out. Besides, they're obviously meant for one another because they have matching moles on their upper lips. Not exactly something to build a relationship on, but, hey, it's a start, and they need all the help they can get.
Lily seems sweet enough, in a forlorn sort of way, but Jarrod is something of a jerk. He's arrogant and abusive and weird all at the same time. His great ambition in life is to beat up an old high school nemesis, and other than his oddball romance with Lily, it's about all the film offers as a conflict.
In addition to Lily and Jarrod, we meet Lily's brother, whom I mentioned, and Jarrod's family and friends. To the person, they are all as unhappy as the two main characters, wanting nothing more from life than to escape it. This isn't exactly the way to entertain an audience, with nothing funny or romantic or dramatic done or said and a mood so restrained it could put "NoDoze" out of business.
While I found a moment or two in "Eagle Vs. Shark" engaging, in general the movie wearied me. It seemed mostly tedious and depressing, its eighty-eight minutes going by in about eight hours. When every person in the story is a boring loser, you know you're in for a long haul.
Miramax Films and Buena Vista Home Entertainment present the film in its original 1.85:1 theatrical ratio and in a relatively high-bit-rate, anamorphic transfer. The hues are bright, perhaps too bright for real life but appropriate to a lightweight, romantic comedy. Facial tones, though, are a bit dark, almost purplish in some scenes. As for object definition, it's fairly good throughout, although I noticed some slight haloing, not severe, and a touch of color bleed-through on occasion.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio does a nice, lively job with the soundtrack, which is probably the best part of the picture. The sound is punchy and wide-ranging, helping to sell the music in particular. There is a good frequency response also, and not just in the obvious deep bass but in the sparkling highs as well.
Among the extras we get the usual things. First up, there's an audio commentary with writer/director and, as the disc case says, "guests"; however, in my hit-and-miss skimming of the commentary, I didn't run into the guests. In any event, what I did listen to of the commentary was more interesting than the movie, the director more energetic and fun than any of the film's characters. Second, there are thirteen deleted scenes with optional director commentary, all in non-anamorphic widescreen. Third, there are several minutes of outtakes, again in non-anamorphic form. Finally, there is a music video, "Going Fishing," performed by the Phoenix Foundation.
Things wind down with twelve scene selections and a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at six other Buena Vista products; English and Spanish spoken languages; French and Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.
It's hard to classify "Eagle Vs. Shark." In the beginning of this review I called it a bittersweet, romantic comedy, which I guess is close enough. However, its bittersweetness is neither painful nor pleasant; its romance is neither appealing nor touching; and its comedy is practically nonexistent. The result is a film that didn't move me in the least, one way or another. It's just kind of...there, a slice of life picture that represents people living in another universe from mine entirely.