Eagle vs. Shark

In the last 10 years, the “quirky” indie comedy has become so enmeshed in the mainstream that it’s practically pejorative to label a film with the “q-word.” From Wes Anderson to Napoleon Dynamite to Little Miss Sunshine and their innumerable inferior offshoots, cinematic quirkiness has become associated with arch stylism, sitcom-level dysfunctional families and a general watered-down quality.

The Kiwi import Eagle vs. Shark doesn’t tinker with the formula—it has an oddball family out of The Royal Tenenbaums, the nerd-power posturing of Napoleon Dynamite and a goofy, deadpan tone reminiscent of nearly every down-under comedy made in the last decade. It’s a world in which every great revelation occurs while walking in slow motion to an indie-folk song.

However, Eagle vs. Shark has an ace up its sleeve—a pathetically lived-in, physical performance from Jemaine Clement (recently of Flight of the Conchords) as Jarrod, an overgrown adolescent dork compelled to exact a ludicrous plan of revenge against a childhood bully. Clement has a knack for making untenable lines work, and his preparation sessions are a revelation to anyone who thought they’d never laugh at a silly training montage again.

Loren Horsley also does nice work as Lily, an oddball waif who decides that the self-absorbed wanker Jarrod is her one true love. She accepts another girl’s invitation to his “animal party” (come dressed as your favorite animal), allows him to beat her at his favorite video game and offers her body to him that night, homemade shark costume and all.

From there, Taika Cohen’s film is a fairly plotless character study about old wounds and debilitating social awkwardness inhibiting romantic prospects. With two winning lead performances, solid laughs and clever stop-motion animation segments, Eagle vs. Shark is funny, charming and (dare I say) a quirky winner.