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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

December 8, 2009

8/10 Ligers

Strange as hell, but freakin’ hilarious.

Napoleon Dynamite is pretty much about the life of a painfully nerdy, socially awkward High Schooler/fashion victim as he tries to help his best friend become class president over the most popular girl in school. He also has to find a date to the prom, he also has no skills to impress the ladies, and he also has to deal with his jerk uncle who’s moving in because Napoleon’s grandma is in the hospital after suffering a freak dune buggy injury. Life is tough for Napoleon Dynamite.

Yes, it’s different, but it’s also the closest thing we’re getting to a Revenge of the Nerds reincarnation in this decade, and that’s one hell of a compliment if I do say so myself.

Going off of the totally erratic synopsis, the thing about Napoleon Dynamite is that there’s not much of a story here to begin with. I guess it’s a character study more than anything else, but even that’s kind of a stretch. Director Jared Hess’ vision here more or less breaks down to, “Hi, folks. Meet Napoleon. He’s weird, but I think you’ll like him. Welp, see ya later!”

This kind of mindset usually works against most directors, but for some reason it works here. You don’t really end up caring about the lack of story because the characters are so freakin’ bizarre and the script is so damn funny that the formula of just watching them all go about their everyday lives ends up being more than enough to thoroughly entertain.

But the characters really are the selling point here, or rather the actors behind them. To call them eccentric would be to do them a favor, but let’s go down the list of the more memorable ones, shall we? Great, we shall.

So, this is Napoleon Dynamite. What a stud. Kinda hard to narrow down what makes Napoleon so peculiar, some might say it’s the obsessions with mythical creatures, “numbchucks”, and tater tots, but I like to think its because of Jon Heder. After catching the end of Blades of Glory on TBS last night, it quickly occurred to me that Jon Heder should stop being in movies. I remember when this first came out, everyone was wondering whether he was actually that nerdy in real life or whether he was just extremely convincing. Lucky for him it was the latter, but either way, Jon Heder will be trying to escape this role for the rest of his days until he finally snaps and finds himself bunking with Dustin Diamond on The Surreal Life: Season 28.

But lucky for us, he rocks from start to finish. One of the all-time great movie nerds.

And then there’s Napoleon’s cousin, Kip, played by some guy I’ve never heard of, Aaron Ruell. Kip is essentially a meeker version of Napoleon that has aspirations to be a cage fighter and is involved in a serious long-distance online relationship with a woman named Lafawnduh. He’s another interesting addition to the family and has some great lines going for him, too.

Thirdly is Napoleon’s uncle, Rico. He’s stuck in the ’80s, the only thing on his mind is how his life would have been so much different if his coach had let him play QB in the big game against state, he’s a dick, he’s a sleazebag, and he’s probably my favorite character out of them all. The whole time machine bit and him talking about how he could throw a football over a mountain range, then proving it by throwing a full steak into Napoleon’s face is just too good. Actor Jon Gries is also probably the only cast member here who managed to be hilarious without dooming himself to the this role for all eternity being that I’ve seen him turn up in Lost and some other shows and movies since. So way to go, Jon Gries. Glad to see you’re doing alright for yourself, man.

And Pedro is good, too. I like when he says, “Hot.”

I’ve heard a couple people call this movie mean-spirited, viewing it as a “Let’s watch this nerdy kid get shit on and make an ass of himself for two hours,” kind of experience, but I don’t get that. By the movie’s end, I didn’t find myself pitying or feeling bad for Napoleon and his odd little circle of family and friends, I was glad I got to know them. It’s their quirks that make them special, that make them endearing without making them look pathetic. It can be hard to strike that balance and not have your characters serve as helpless whipping posts for the brunt of every joke, and Hess avoids that pretty well.

But even so, the script here is just great. The humor is fantastically subtle, the dialogue is quotable to the point of frustration (God forbid you find yourself wearing a “VOTE FOR PEDRO” shirt in public nowadays – that is so 2004, you wannabe hipster, you), and who in the hell saw that dance routine coming? Talk about random, but whatever, five years later and that is still totally awesome. I sure as hell can’t do that.

I once heard the Farrelly brothers singing this movie’s praises in regards to how hard it is to write a movie this funny while keeping it PG, and you know what, those guys are spot on. Napoleon Dynamite is just a great, simple little comedy and I don’t think Jared Hess had any idea what kind of bar he was setting for himself when he set out to make this thing.

Nacho Libre…yeesh.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2009 2:55 pm

    For whatever reason Mormons LOVE this movie. Can’t figure that out.

  2. December 8, 2009 4:42 pm

    i want a giant swingball

  3. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    December 8, 2009 5:03 pm

    The first time I watched this, I didn’t laugh once. I was sure I hated it. The second time I watched it something clicked and I thought, “This is inspired lunacy.” And so it was that I came to be a collector of all things Napoleon Dynamite — clicky pens, mousepads, notepads, a talking keychain.

    My only beef is that Jon Heder will never live down this role.

  4. December 12, 2009 9:09 pm

    First time I watched it, I thought “what the hell is this…” but, second time you watch it – as soon as he throws that plastic toy out the bus window and we see it just drag from the back of the bus … again, you think “what the hell is that … he is so messed up… and its just so-o-o-o-o funny”. I find myself laughing at the thought of that toy hitting the road on that pathetic piece of string.

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