Patron Pick – Eagle vs. Shark

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Bekah Lindstrom.

Eagle vs. Shark (2007)
Written & Directed by Taika Waititi

I do not like Taika Waititi. Let me clarify. I don’t like what Waititi’s work has become; the worst aspects of his pre-Thor: Ragnarok work have just been amplified and played up, and it has diminished for me what might have otherwise been a fairly notable filmmaking career. I think Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are the best pieces of his work. In terms of his producing/supporting other artists, Reservation Dogs is fantastic. But that’s about it as far as I’m concerned. Eagle vs. Shark might be one of the best examples of Waititi wasting his talent, and we will certainly get into it.

Lily (Loren Horsley) is a shy woman whose closest friend is her brother Damon. She has an intense crush on video game store employee Jarrod (Jemaine Clement). Jarrod is somewhat anti-social, unable to move past his childhood bully. Lily & Jarrod become close after she attends his “dress as your favorite animal” party; the titular shark and eagle are their costumes. They bond on a sense of shared loss; they have close family members who have died. Lily travels to Jarrod’s hometown to visit his family and help him confront his bully. The family is just as odd as Jarrod, all in their own ways. The more Lily learns about Jarrod, the more she questions things. Eventually, she helps support him, and he confronts his bully in a surprising turn of events. They live happily ever after, I suppose. 

One of the best things Waititi has given is pushing actress Rachel House. She’s consistently the best element of his work, from Eagle vs. Shark to Boy to Hunt for the Wilderpeople to Thor: Ragnarok. I want House to have a much more significant presence in film than she already does because she’s got a perfect balance of comedic timing and dramatic gravitas. If anyone helps to balance out Waititi’s indulgences, it’s House. Here Loren Horsely is right up there, giving the performance the rest of the movie needs, finding humor and pathos in all the right moments. The problem is ultimately Waititi’s choices as a director that cause me not to enjoy this picture. 

I feel like I need to provide multiple preambles when saying you don’t like Taika Waititi can be seen as anathema by so many. However, what I appreciate the most about him is his evident dedication to greater representation in media, starting with Maori people and now encompassing many groups like Indigenous people (Rez Dogs) and LGBTQ characters in This Flag Means Death. If he can use his clout to push and promote more diverse art, I hope he stays popular for that reason.

My particular wrinkle with him lies in how his sense of humor often intrudes into emotional performances and moments and undermines them. There are several instances where characters are in the middle of some pretty emotional arcs important to their development, and his writing will intrude on these moments with silliness. There’s a balance at play in all films of humor and emotional weight; it’s crucial in controlling the film’s tone. You can shift subtly or radically, each delivering a different effect on the audience’s perceptions of the story. In a movie like Thor: Ragnarok, you can jump around wildly, and it can work because it’s not a very serious movie about real humanity.

Eagle vs. Shark was his first feature film, and he was still developing. I think he has improved since then, but damn, this was a rough watch. Everything about Jarrod is so awful and framed by the end as endearing. Lily, of course, sees through all the bad stuff and knows he’s really good, even though he never exhibits it throughout the film. I think Loren Horsley does a lot of the heavy emotional lifting here, while Waititi is just lazy. His sense of humor here feels messy & childish, not in a good way.

I will counter by saying I have read complaints from Marvel stans about Thor: Ragnarok, and I disagree with them. They will whine about the director not taking Marvel stuff seriously, and he shouldn’t. Those are theme park rides, and it’s something he does understand; just be fun & stupid; little thought should be put into those pictures. Too much money already is. I don’t think Waititi is some horrible plague on film; he’s just a filmmaker whose personal aesthetic doesn’t mesh with my preferences. If he keeps pushing for things like Reservation Dogs, I’m happy to have him around. I just don’t imagine myself clamoring to see his work with any enthusiasm. That said, be looking for my Thor: Love and Thunder review soon. Ha!

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