Eagle vs. Shark is almost always compared in one way or another to Napoleon Dynamite, either negatively or positively, in any discussion. And there is a good reason for this since both films are deadpan character studies of those whom society, especially high schoolers, tend to label losers. But while Napoleon Dynamite is just simply flat out funny, Eagle vs. Shark is a much darker bird altogether; it is not simply Napoleon displaced to New Zealand. Other differences are that the main characters are older, they have sex instead of play tetherball, and the guy is simply not very likable, though those reviews taking him to task as a misogynist are wildly unfounded. What do Eagle vs. Shark and Napoleon Dynamite have in common? Quite a bit. The main thing is that the male protagonist in both movies is prone to fabricating about their skills and accomplishments which lead to complications for them both.
Unlike Napoleon, the real focus of Eagle vs. Shark is the female protagonist, played to inferiority complex perfection by Loren Horsley. Loren’s character is all hunched shoulders and downed lids and her attraction to Jarrod, who is admittedly a bit of jerk, is never really fully explained, but that is as it should be. After all, what the hell did Lyle Lovett ever seen in Julia Roberts? The plot of Eagle vs. Shark is hung upon the revenge mission that Jarrod has spent his entire adulthood preparing for. But this is really a film that is a leisurely examination of how high school imprints upon a great many people the psychological foundation that will guide the rest of their lives. It is a comedy and it is funny, but it is also quite bitter. What actually happens when Jarrod lives out his fantasy of revenge is quite simply unexpected and incredibly jarring. But that is as nothing compared to the jarring effect that occurs as Horsley’s character Lily slowly comes to find that so much of what Jarrod has told her isn’t necessarily factual.
Those looking to see Napoleon Dynamite and enjoy the bizarre humor associated with that film may be disappointed in Eagle vs. Shark. But those who enjoy little moments of sheer comic Dadaism will be overjoyed. My favorite line in the entire movie, and there lots of memorable lines, is when Jarrod early on tells Lila that his mother was killed by being kicked in the head by a cow and now he can no longer go near cows. Moments like those are worth the price of a Netflix rental. As for the odd title, it derives from an actually quite interesting idea for a theme party. Everybody dresses up as their favorite animal, which also leads to another great line from Jarrod: “I almost came as a shark actually, but then I realized an eagle’s slightly better.” And my favorite shot in the entire movie has nothing to do with moving the plot along, though fits quite well thematically. It involves a young girl, and I can’t divulge anything more about her without giving away one of the movie’s slow revelations, acting out a conversation with the sole of her shoe. That one little scene makes up for any flaws you may have with Eagle vs. Shark.
Lily is, as earlier stated, the focus of the film, but she is primarily a reactive character and every decision she makes hinges on her really shockingly inexplicable lust for Jarrod. The bulk of the movie takes place when she volunteers her brother to drive her and Jarrod to his hometown where his mission of revenge will be carried. While there she becomes involved in the bad luck streak in dancing school that is his family and learns what has left him up the junction. Her interaction with his family and his friends provides many wonderful moments of quiet satisfaction, which makes the outcome of Jarrod’s revenge mission all the more shocking.
Eagle vs. Shark is definitely worth a look, even for those whom may be initially put off by the thick New Zealand accents. It isn’t Napoleon Dynamite, but if you enjoyed the deadbeat, medium shot boxed framing and quirky characters of that film, you should enjoy Eagle vs. Shark.