TIM WONG and KATE BLACKHURST offer duelling perspectives on Taika Waititi’s new New Zealand comedy, Eagle vs Shark. Illustration by ADDOLEY DZEGEDE and LYNDON BARROIS.

Addoley Dzegede, 2007 [Click to Enlarge]

Reviewed by Tim Wong

IF EVER there’s a movie in need of parochialism, Eagle vs Shark is it: for all the clammy hospitality it’s received offshore, Taika Waititi’s lionhearted comedy deserves the warmest of homecomings when it releases nationwide this week. Much like its two socially ill-equipped, perfectly contented dweebs at odds with the wider world, Eagle vs Shark has been misunderstood abroad: that its characterisations are condescending; that its awkward romance is a derivative of fashionable whimsy; that Napolean Dynamite stole its thunder. Maybe not the most conducive cultural article for export, Waititi’s film clearly craves home ground advantage, and should finally earn its wings before a local audience whose appreciation of Kiwi foibles ought to be as keen as their desire to see them on the big screen and amongst something other than sheep, bogans, and masturbatory scenery.

While the inherent New Zealandness of Eagle vs Shark is never in doubt, it draws on a greater geographical force: Wellington. Another testament to the city’s incestuous creative community, its sights – from Titahi Bay to Manners Mall – are lived-in, personalised and not at all obnoxiously touristy, while its sounds – The Phoenix Foundation, chiefly, so ubiquitous yet enlivening on film here – are nothing if not tailor-made for the incandesce of cinema. To be sure, Waititi’s weakness for all things quirky and capital reveals an occupied territory: just as Shane Meadows fashioned a competitive love story full of cockney stereotypes and working class kitsch out of his beloved Nottingham in Once Upon a Time in the Midlands, Waititi finds his own twangy wop-wops 15 minutes drive north of the city, where cultural caricatures, tracksuit-couture, and a high noon showdown combine to amusing, if overfamiliar effect.

Yet rather than settle for a procession of peculiar people and places, Waititi not only transcends the cringe factor of provincial Kiwi vernacular, but cushions the oft-told idiosyncrasy with a higher appreciation of the lowbrow – where humour isn’t merely absorbed by the film’s overriding tone, but is allowed to break out and standalone. There are no insipid John Heder Gosh! moments – just Jemaine Clement as Jarrod, quite obviously at home playing a candlestick-making geek, and Loren Horsley as Lily, who surprises and surpasses with an improbably infectious performance; at once gentle and exaggerated, hers is the stuff of an unfathomable crush. And although the film is undermined far more as a Michel Gondry cribbage than a Napolean Dynamite proxy, it at once underlines itself culturally with a soft-spoken modesty, and belies its own shyness as a confident, assured piece of moviemaking (a Sundance Institute benefactor through and through). As for anyone seeking an antidote to the buffoonery (and indeed, Auckland-ness) of Sione’s Wedding, its appeal will be immense.

Lyndon Barrois, 2007 [Click to Enlarge]

Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

TO LIVE in New Zealand is to love New Zealand film. Or, at least, to say you do. If you don’t like it, you are accused of ‘not getting it’, and if you don’t think it’s funny (this is if the film drags itself away from its navel for long enough to aspire to be a comedy) you are accused of not having a sense of humour. So I sat through Eagle vs Shark in a packed cinema of Wellingtonians laughing at every little nuance, and I think I smiled twice, and once was when a seagull got hit with a stone and put out of its misery. It’s just not that funny.

Two geeks get together. He (Jarrod, played by Jemaine Clement) has conversations with himself in the mirror, likes dressing up and playing video games. She (Lily, played by Loren Horsley) writes songs, plays the guitar (badly), and gets fired from her job at a burger joint. They meet; have intensely painful dialogue and equally earnest sex. They then go on a road trip, to prove that all families are dysfunctional; some more than others. A variety of icons are thrown in: shell-suits; pyramid selling; hula hoops; Kiwi back yard with a trampoline and tents.

Director, Taika Waititi has some great ideas, but they don’t go anywhere and are not enough to fill a feature film. There are good one-liners, but the deadpan delivery gets irritating after about ten minutes. Initially, Jarrod’s “I’m so complex” is amusing, but the self-obsession soon wears thin. The film wears its low budget status like a badge of honour, and the sepia-toned, home movie cinematography is decidedly low-tech. Let’s hope deliberately so. The sequence of sleeping bags chasing each other over a hill, or the animated apple cores recalled bad ‘70s children’s TV. I guess you had to be there.

If watching adults behaving like stunted emotional fuckwits, while spotting bits of Wellington, for an hour and a half is your idea of fun, you should go; you’ll love it. Okay, so maybe I’m not the target audience, as it seems aimed at students and trendy young folk – overheard in the auditorium: “Are you a friend of mine on Facebook?” – but I did at least love the music. I’ll be checking out Phoenix Foundation, even if forgetting the film instantly.