2004 - PG - 82 Mins.
|Director: Jared Hess
|Producer: Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel and Chris Wyatt
|Written By: Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess
|Starring: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino
|Review by: Bill King
|Official Site: www.foxsearchlight.com/napoleondynamite/
"Napoleon Dynamite" is about the most antisocial misfit I've ever seen onscreen. As played with pitch-perfect timing by Jon Heder, Dynamite (that's his last name) would rather be left to his own devices. He doesn't socialize much, draws pictures during class and plays tether ball by himself. Other kids pick on him and, while he doesn't like it, he doesn't retaliate physically, but verbally. He withdraws into his own world where no one else exists. Tall, with bad hair and exposed upper teeth, Napoleon lacks the football-player look that permeates other high school movies. For every jock that roams the hallways, there is a Napoleon Dynamite who has few friends and no luck with the girls.
The hair adds 4 inches and 20 pounds to my frame.
The movie is funny in a number of ways, and none of it is conventional. There is a school dance, but it serves to reaffirm Napoleon's status on the high school social scale, rather than as a ploy to give the bullies what they deserve. He lives with his grandmother, who suffers an injury from riding a dune buggy in an early scene. His skinny brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) spends every minute in Internet chat rooms and is in training to become a cage fighter. When the grandmother goes to the hospital, their uncle Rico (Jon Gries) moves in to take care of them. He's a football washout who had a big game in 1982 and wishes he could travel back in time to capitalize on that event. At one point, he and Kip buy what they believe to be a time machine off the Internet, but it backfires when Napoleon tries it out in a deliriously funny scene.
Fellow classmate and door-to-door salesgirl Deb (Tina Majorino, the girl with the map on her back in "Waterworld") stops by Napoleon's house, but she gets freaked out and runs off, leaving her merchandise on his doorstep. Napoleon returns them to her the next day, and for what might be the first time in his life, he falls in love. Of course, he's too shy to say anything. His only friend is a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who decides to run for class president against the popular Summer (Haylie Duff, Hilary's sister). Pedro is also attracted to Deb, but he has more nerve to say something to her, and she accepts, so once again Napoleon falls short of his goals.
The movie is organized as a series of small chapters that follow Napoleon throughout his daily routines. Rico encourages him to get a job, and he does so, on a chicken farm where the owners drink a substance that is nearly equal to the gross-out factor seen in Stifler's pale ale in "American Pie." Rico and Kip try to sell tupperware to the small-town residents, and when that idea runs out, they advertise breast enlargement herbs. Since Napoleon can't ask Deb to the dance (she's going with Pedro), he asks another girl by drawing her portrait. He apparently spent hours drawing what looks like a child's sketch.
Despite his ordeals, Napoleon always gets up when the day is new to endure it all over again. Whether it's putting up with pushy classmates or intrusive family members, he remains unchanged. He reacts in the most unexpected manner to hostility and says things that may make sense to him but make no sense to anyone else. In fact, I suspect bullies taunt him because they want to hear what he'll say in his defense. Here's an example:
Guy - "Hey, Napoleon. What did you do last summer again?"
Napoleon - "I told you! I spent it with my uncle in Alaska hunting wolverines!"
Guy - "Did you shoot any?"
Napoleon - "Yeah, like, fifty of them! They were surrounding my cousin! What the heck would you do in a situation like that?"
Guy - "What kind of gun did you use?"
Napoleon - "A freakin' 12-gauge, what do you think?"
Napoleon knows he'll never be popular, so he just acts however he wants with disregard to what anyone else thinks. He gets frustrated when people ask him too many questions, and if he's in an uncomfortable situation, he speaks his mind. When forced to view his uncle's personal video, for example, he shouts that it's the worst video ever made. He's like the Adam Sandler character in "Punch-Drunk Love," only more vocal about how he feels.
The co-writer and director, Jared Hess, fashioned a film that draws nearly all of its humor from its eccentric characters. Everyone here has a story, and nothing was deemed too outlandish for inclusion. In this dazzling display of comic timing and strong writing, it is Jon Heder's performance that comes out on top. He delivers his dialogue as if irritated just to talk and his physical comedy is unexpectedly funny. Watch him as he rushes off the stage towards the end once the music stops, or when dismounting a horse, or when he climbs over a fence to escape Uncle Rico. I saw "Napoleon Dynamite" at the same theater that was playing "The Village." How often is it that one of the year's best movies plays right alongside one of the year's worst?