This week I found something new to obsess over: a little movie called Eagle vs Shark. I wasn’t feeling well one night, and Donovan went and got a movie from the video store and some treats for me.

Now, you have to be careful about movies when you’re sick. Once when I had the flu, I decided to watch Moulin Rouge. Oh boy, not a good idea what with all those flying crane shots and crazy makeup and actors getting right up in the camera. Freaking nauseating. So when I read the back cover for the DVD, and it said “Eagle vs Shark is the tale of two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love; through revenge on high-school bullies, burgers, and video games,” I thought, oh geez, is this going to be all dark and disturbing? The last thing I need to remember what an ass I was in high school.

But apparently it was up for the big awards at Sundance, so we gave it a go. From the very beginning, it reminded me a lot of Napoleon Dynamite in terms of style and pacing. Reading the critics on Flixster (via Facebook) and the roundup on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems a lot of people are reminded of Napoleon Dynamite, producing plenty of back and forth on which is the better movie.

Both movies have plenty of plot similarities: obnoxious anti-heroes who make art in the lead role (Jarrod, Napoleon), quirky families (including the quirk of selling stuff), rural, kinda desolated settings, and heroines who try to love the idiot anyway (Lily, the girl with the glamour shots). There’s even a nerdy sidekick (Mason, Pedro). But is the fact that the two have similarities in style necessarily bad? Hell, I’d love to see more movies that mine the quirks of everyday people for laughs, rather than the fart-jokes-and-boobies school that seems to rule American comedy. It’s easy to see where Taika Waititi drew inspiration from for Eagle vs Shark (Napoleon Dynamite came out in 2004; Eagle vs Shark in 2007), but it’s pretty insulting to say that he simply set out to make the New Zealand version of the first film. And if anything, he improved on the elements of quirky comedy – the supporting characters in Eagle vs Shark are played with some heart and sympathy, not just for laughs.

But let’s get to the meat of it: the nerdy heros and heroines. The other theme of criticism centers around the fact that Jarrod, the surly, mulletheaded object of Lily’s affection, is a geek who is not only utterly without social skills but at times, treats her incredibly badly. Furthermore, she’s a “doormat” who just takes it. The critics point to the fact that she endures his aggressively anti-social behaviour to win him, but why is he worth the winning? Maybe it’s because his faults – his complete lack of self-awareness, his laughable fighting skills, his clumsy attempts at romance “Hey, pretty good sex last night” – make him utterly fascinating. Jarrod fucking lodges himself in your brain and won’t get out.

And on another note, since when are drop-dead good looks, good social skills and good self-esteem (or accurate self-concept) prerequisites for love? If that were the case, most of us would be walking around lonely. While it’s never really explained why Lily develops such a crush on Jarrod (he’s a regular customer at the burger joint where she works) on his outward looks and manners alone, she does find something tender inside of him. “I’m a loser, aren’t I?” he says, to which she replies “It doesn’t matter.” And isn’t that what we all want, to be found out and accepted anyway? Jarrod isn’t deliberately malicious, he’s just clueless. Lily is a little passive, but she’s kind and caring. Does being mean or weak make us unworthy of love?

Of course not. In most movies, the nerd needs to have a makeover (remember the “red dress” scene in She’s All That?), or be visibly softened up at least (Pretty in Pink?), before they can find love. Here, there is just a subtle shift towards maturity and a kind gesture to indicate the beginning of true love.

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