September 9, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

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There”s a genre for every movie out there. Even the special, iconoclastic films can get a cross-genre. Kill Bill is a wWestern/Kung-fu flick, Eternal Sunshine is a dark romantic comedy, Mad Max is a Western-Science Fiction, and so on. But never have I witnessed the combination that is Napoleon Dynamite — a nerd comedy flick that is coincidentally a character study. Not since Real Genius has the nerd realm been scrutinized so deeply. And with its one-dimensional and character-dependent script, young director Jared Hess has all eyes on his one-of-a-kind teenager … Napoleon Dynamite. Dynamite is as minimalist of a script as you”ll ever come across. On paper, I doubt that it incites any laughter. So why is it funny? Because it just friggin” is! Gosh!

Most nerd flicks ask for sympathy. Some of them want the girls or your attention, and some of the nerds want revenge. Napoleon”s interested in all the same stuff we used to love … when we were ten. Doing jumps on our bikes, drawing pictures, and yes, even making lanyards at scout camp. And so what if he comes from the most bizarre of families. Napoleon doesn”t want your sympathy. He doesn”t want your attention and he most certainly isn”t seeking vengeance. Come to think of it, he really isn”t after a girl either. So what the heck is Napoleon after? For starters, he”d like to eat the tater tots he saved in his pockets from lunch. He”s also got a Spanish friend named Pedro who”s engaged in an uphill battle to be school president. When there”s time, our man with a terribly orange fro and ultra retro glasses likes to move along to hip-hop dance grooves. He fits so much enthusiasm under his sarcastic hatred for the world that it”s easy to see that Napoleon is much more than just another nerd on film.

Never showing a deeper sign of civilization than a school cafeteria and using “80s classics for the majority of the soundtrack, Dynamite wanders through obscurity and leaves many basic questions unanswered. But Jon Heder brings a humiliation to his Napoleon that is hilarious, warm, and true. Napoleon actually believes that ‘girls want boyfriends with nunchuck skills, computer-hacking skills, and bow-hunting skills.’ When annoyed, he ends his sentences with sarcasm, exaggeration, and a pathetic loathing that is usually seen in a ten-year-old when they can”t find their toy. IDIOT! While the humor is one-dimensional, this film knows what its one and only strong point is — the lead character. From the moment that Napoleon gets on the bus for school to the election speeches, which boasts the funniest moment in nerd cinema history, the lead character has your attention. You want him to get pissed off and bathe in his childish bitterness. You want him to be exposed for the pathetic dork that he is. And in the end, when Napoleon is back on the tetherball court doing nothing, you want Napoleon to just be himself. If you can accept this movie for the low budget laughter and truisms that it is, then you”ll be happily surprised. To quote the four-eyed hero, this film was ‘pretty sweet. It was awesome. It was incredible!’

4 Stars

Archived article by Dan Cohen
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer