My Favorite Taika Waititi Movie Is Still His First
For better or worse, this has been a pretty big year for Taika Waititi, and boy is it showing no signs of slowing down! He is set to direct the film adaptation of the graphic novel The Incal, a modern day adaptation of 1981’s Time Bandits, and a sports drama film titled Next Goal Wins. What we love about Taika is his willingness to tackle all kinds of stories, and he always brings a sense of fun, charm, and seriousness to them.
But with all of that being said, my heart will always belong to his very first feature, Eagle vs Shark. At the time of its release, critics claimed it was a film like any other of its ilk, yet another halfway thing that couldn’t stand on its own. Several years later, I think they were full of it and too enamored of Napoleon Dynamite, to whom they constantly compared him. Sure, he has all the trappings of an insufferable indie who focuses too much on aesthetics with no real backbone, but even back then, Taika knew how to write a touching story.
Eagle vs Shark follows Lily, a twenty-something Kiwi girl who lives with her brother and longs for a more substantial life. She’s incredibly shy and doesn’t have many friends, if any at all, and when she’s not working at a fast food joint (where her co-workers treat her like crap) she writes songs and hangs out in the city. One of his favorite places to stop is the local video game store, where a guy named Jarrod works.
Now, Lily is a very endearing character, much like Max from Life is Strange if Max never had the chance to toughen up until his twenties. Lily is serious at a fault, and while some wallflower characters are almost too twee to root for, you do feel compassion for her. But Jarrod? Jarrod is kind of an asshole. He is quite brash and has an ego that vastly overestimates his own importance. To put it simply, he’s just an off-putting guy.
Still, Lily is more than a little in love with him, which I can kind of understand, even though he probably doesn’t deserve her. When I was younger, I loved weird guys too, often for just one or two things that I thought could negate all their other flaws and weaknesses. And I mean, it’s Jemaine Clement; he’s a physically attractive guy even when he’s wearing a bad haircut and a silly leather jacket.
The film follows their bizarre courtship, beginning with an invitation to a costume party that was definitely not intended for Lily, and moving on to a trip to Jarrod’s hometown, where he plans to settle a score with a bully of the school that doesn’t even remember him. . I told a friend how much I loved this movie and he bemusedly replied, “It’s such a sad and pathetic movie, I don’t see how anyone could enjoy it.”
But – call me a freak – I love movies like this. Movies that follow such unconventional people, and still give them a good ending. I feel like, most of the time, indies give us either okay quirky people who get okay quirky endings or “freaks” who get their just-desserts for not finding a way to fit in . In the case of Eagle vs. Shark, Lily and Jarrod get endings that make sense to them: Lily sticks to her beliefs that Jarrod is her soulmate, and Jarrod stops playing the victim and realizes what matters. more for him.
Despite its almost whimsical tone, the film is surprisingly mature and down-to-earth, and it takes itself seriously in the areas that matter. For example, his family is presented in a pretty caustic way: clearly his father thinks he’s a disappointment, his sister obviously likes to make fun of him, and my god, he has a daughter from an affair he barely recognize. Yet even as he storms out of the house in a rage, the family lingers for Lily’s sake, taking time to get to know her and make sure she’s okay while she’s there. Their dysfunctional family isn’t just a goofy one-note plot point that gets ignored; they are integral to Lily becoming more confident and sure of herself as she finally finds people who accept her for who she is, while giving back and developing a bond with Jarrod’s daughter, Vinny.
And the whole movie, as flippant as it sounds, handles all of its parts with that kind of care. It’s just such a lovely, delightful movie, and it ends on such a high note, it had me crying for a good five minutes afterwards just out of sheer joy. As we enter this new year, I implore everyone – outcasts, artists and hapless lovers – to give this film a chance.
(featured image: IFC Films)
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that prohibits, but is not limited to, personal insults to anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Do you have a tip we should know? [email protected]