Lily (Lauren Horsley) works at a burger bar where the highlight of her day is when Jarrod (Jemaine Clement) comes in and orders a meal. He works across the way in the mall's computer gaming emporium, and she has a crush on him despite him not being aware of her other than as the person who serves him, and even then he does not seek her out, preferring to be served by her co-worker who he finds more attractive. Lily is undeterred, or she is until one day her name is picked out of a hat by her boss as the person to be sacked for budgetary reasons: now she doesn't have much time left to get to know Jarrod, so inveigles her way into an invitation to his fancy dress party...
Eagle vs Shark was the first film Taika Waititi made before the blockbusters came a-calling, after cutting his teeth on short comedies in his native New Zealand, and as with much of his work, gathered a cult following. You didn't need to be from his home nation to appreciate the humour, though it did have many who watched it making comparisons to the better-known Napoleon Dynamite thanks to a shared love of deadpan quirks, yet if many were being honest this probably had a better laugh rate if you were not so impressed with the American comedy's studied eccentricities, for Waititi offered his humour a lot less blankly, and a lot more local.
This was certainly offputting to some viewers, but the sense that if you knew New Zealanders, or had some experience of their culture, then you would get on with this more agreeably was present to the extent that it often felt like the film was doing itself and its fellow countrymen down - don't be so hard on yourself, may be your response. It was not completely negative by any means, simply that it was painfully aware of what the characters' drawbacks and idiosyncrasies were, with only the fact that it could have been actively depressing when it preferred more nuance its probable saving grace. If not consistently laugh out loud hilarious, it was accurate to observe it had its moments.
Quite a few of them, its self-deprecation evident when Waititi was expressing what in other locations may be described as the "cultural cringe", and maybe they call it that in the land of the kiwi too. Jarrod, it turns out, is a prize berk and not worthy even of a meek little mouse like Lily (it's implied the sole reason she latched onto him is because they both have a mole above their upper lip), but after she impresses him with her gaming skills, the old romantic keeps her behind after the party and has sex with her, to her delight in spite of taking about ten seconds to do the deed. But then he does a curious thing immediately afterwards: he makes a threatening telephone call, and she has no idea why, the theme of getting to know someone being accompanied by a pile of baggage growing ever more blatant.
Nevertheless, Lily, who lives with her brother, gets Jarrod talking one evening and he tells her he has been training for a fight with his arch-nemesis who he only refers to as "The Samoan". She allows him to take her to his hometown across the island, driven by her nice to a fault sibling Damon (Joel Tobeck) who has looked after her since her parents died, where we begin to get a more rounded view of what Waititi identified as amusing about his countrymen. Not only him, either, as Horsley (latterly Taylor) collaborated on the screenplay, providing a showcase for Clement's style of humour as well that would do him proud over the course of a very successful career. The final revelation about Jarrod's vendetta, with as it transpires the now-grown man who used to bully him at school, was appropriately anticlimactic, that was the kind of joke you got here, but Lily's first thwarted, then energised faith in her man was genuinely sweet, suggesting no one is beyond redemption, all they need is perspective and proper goals. Music by The Phoenix Foundation.