Henley and I went and saw the much talked about NZ comedy film Eagle Versus Shark last night, finally.

For those not in the know, it is the story about drippy-but-cute Lily and her romantic adventure to find love with Jarrod, the absolutely useless and seemingly irredeemable twat who works in the video store up the mall from her. Initially blinded by love, a trip to see his family becomes a subtle battleground between the two of them for attention.

Ultimately we find what it is that Lily sees in Jarrod, but I have to admit that for the majority of the film I just hated the guy unconditionally. He was the epitome of self-centred, arrogant and deluded. But he does come around in the end… kind of.

So what did I think of the film. Well it suffered from the awkwardness that so many NZ films deliberately aim for. Not so pretentiously as it could have, but what it ended up doing was making the film less appealing than it could have been. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it mostly, and there were funny moments – but good comedy it wasn’t. More often I found the best moments were not carried by the leads but some of the secondary cast – and the awkward tone of the film made the first half almost agonising to sit through. In fact, if it hadn’t introduced Lily’s brother when it did, I was getting tempted to just walk out of the cinema.

This whole aim at making the audience uneasy and uncomfortable was great back in the day when NZ film-making was all self-reflecting and searching for an identity – it worked for such serious films like Sleeping Dogs, Vigil, The Quiet Earth – but NZ comedy has always fallen flat on cinema because of this style of film-making. Via Satellite, Goodbye Porkpie, even Came a Hot Friday (one of my favourites…) – NZ film-makers need to understand that there is more to comedy and, frankly, more to NZ’s identity than this.

Eagle Vs Shark felt, to me, like a great big step backwards for NZ comedy films. Seriously. It just wasn’t as funny as it could have been. But maybe I’m just being a bit harsh – I just felt that with the amount of characterisation given, there could have been a better way to tell its story.

Maybe I feel that it is time for NZ film-makers to grow out more – redefine what it is to make a film in NZ.

I think one of the reasons that comedy suffers in New Zealand lies in how we train our actors. I’ve been watching Freaks and Geeks, by the brilliant Judd Apatow – who knows how to get the most out of performances. Most importantly his films and shows identify that the visual media is not a stage. Stage acting is the anathema of good film.

To act on screen a person needs to either be natural or hyper natural. People need to talk like real people, and not annunciate every word. New Zealand television and film performances are a bit of a mixed bag – with many good actors, and a lot of bad television actors who are better on stage.

There is a fault in the mannersims given – on television you get NZ actors who either do nothing but deliver their lines with minimum facial reaction, or go too over the top and look terribly uncomfortable and self-conscious when they do it. As if to apologise to the viewer.

Not that Eagle Vs Shark suffered too much of this – if anything it was too awkward and understated, and I feel that was a lot to do with the director and the style chosen.

All in all, I just wish I could see an NZ comedy that kept me laughing rather than squirming in my seat during the obligatory “serious bits.”

Maybe I’ve just become a serious Apatow school of comedy guy – where humour is found in the everyday, and where even during the most serious and heart-touching moment we still find something to laugh about. That is good comedy.

Conan
Currently Reading: Sidereals 2e
Currently Playing: Nothing
Mood: Getting ready to write his own scripts…

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