Eagle vs. Shark is not another "inspired-by" high school athletic epic but rather a romantic comedy as strange as you will find this year. Actually I had to go back to 1971 with John Cassavetes' Minnie and Moskowitz and Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude to find equivalently eccentric couples meeting the challenges of decidedly unromantic love. Lily (Loren Horsley) is the na?ve victim of society's meanness (she loses a job at Meaty Burger, where most of us wouldn't even eat, much less work); Jerrod (Jemaine Clement) is a slacker clerk straight out of Napoleon Dynamite.
This New-Zealand funky romance is partly funded by a fellowship from Sundance, not a guarantee of quality but a sign there might be something more than the initial impression that director Taika Waititi is being condescending to these less than brilliant lovers. After a while, I lost my own condescension and warmed to the simplicity of Lily's love for the obtuse and dorky Jerrod, as well as Jerrod's struggle with his feelings for this loveable flake. I also found comfort as I placed the protagonists in the same lineup with eccentric characters out of the imaginations of Bill Forsythe and David Lynch.
For example, the socially-clumsy Jarrod asks the introverted Lily if she'd like to have sex; she immediately replies, "Yep." The fleeting act, in which it takes longer to affix the condom than to perform, is charmingly innocent and inept.
Most of the family members are either socially unprepared or physically handicapped, a metaphor for the difficulties of social integration for unsophisticated but good-hearted underachievers. The oddball spirit of the film is embodied in the animal-costume party, for which Jarrod hosts as an eagle and Lily arrives as a shark. Thus the title, the endearing characters, and the difficulty deciding if this is an understated farce about the fringes of society or an exaltation of diversity and simplicity. You decide.