Lily McKinnon (Loren Horsley) has the journey from cradle to grave pretty much nailed. “Life is hard,” she sighs, “but in between the hard bits there are some lovely bits.” Bad teeth, dead parents, social inadequacy: she’s one of life’s unluckies – a bruised ego destined to muddle on far from the it-crowd. Yet she’s also rather lovely, a woman who’ll go out of her way to help anyone, blessed with an innocence that’s somehow remained unchecked.
We meet Lily working in Meaty Boy, an atrocious fast-food joint whose signature dish is the revolutionary meat/bread/meat-stacked Crazy Burger. It’s a bum deal 9 to 5. So, to escape the misery, the server pines for regular punter Jerrod Lough (Jermaine Clement) – a local videogame vendor fond of dark glasses and egotism. He’s the eponymous Eagle, Lily the Shark (check out the early animal fancy dress party); and their romantic sparring is the lifeblood of this self-consciously oddball Sundance ’07 festival favourite.
Whereas the titular hero of Hallam Foe exists somewhere believable (the Edinburgh backstreets), shoulder-to-shoulder with real people, debut writer-director Taika Cohen paints Eagle Vs Shark’s New Zealand location as an off-kilter backwater, a countrywide mental home where the internet is slow and the people even slower.
Slowest of all is Jerrod, an idiot non-savant who feels like a Kiwi cousin to the title character of Jared Hess’ 2004 breakout, Napoleon Dynamite. The difference, though, is that Jon Heder’s Napoleon had redeeming features whereas Jerrod’s just an arse, spending half the movie ‘training’ for a bathetic backyard grudge match with an old school foe.
Thank heavens then for caring Lily, an angel next to her self-obsessed object of affection. Sharing a beautiful relationship with brother Damon (Joel Tobeck), it’s hard to buy the idea of her falling into such a one-sided courtship. Yet somehow you still yearn for her to find happiness. That buzz around Eagle Vs Shark? Loren Horsley, electrifying your heart.
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Contrived? Yes. Second-hand ideas? A few. But this funny ha-ha, funny peculiar indie is lifted by a stand-out female lead - and writer-director Cohen could be the southern hemisphere's Jared Hess.