Moon boots and 'Tater tots; together in a movie at last!
Fri, 17 June 2005
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This is an unusual flick and not everyone will like it, but I sure do. The characters are odd (at least when compared with more typical movie characters) and not even particularly appealing, the pace is sedated, the humour is subtle and subdued and the plot is barely even there. Yet, for me, it mostly just comes together and works, in a quirky (that's an overused adjective, but still the most appropriate one in this case) kind of way.
From the inventive "vibe-setting" opening credits (accompanied by the song "We're Going to be Friends" by the White Stripes) until the end, Napoleon Dynamite just does things in a way all of its own.
Napoleon Dynamite was directed by Jared Hess and he also wrote it, along with his wife Jerusha Hess. These people (incidentally, they are supposedly Mormons; that's not some kind of joke, I just read that about them and figured I'd throw it in) aren't exactly household names. To be honest I have never even heard of them before. But I suspect they'll have themselves quite a loyal following if they continue to produce material like this.
|Nothing I write could make this pic funnier than it already is |
I could see them getting that "cult status" that certain writers and directors manage to attract. They just might find themselves (whether they like it or not) mentioned along with the likes of Kevin Smith, Charlie Kaufman and the Coen Brothers. I do mean that as a compliment, in case you were wondering. Actually, some people already are talking about the Hess duo (especially Jared) that way. I have noticed that it has become somewhat trendy (among movie geeks at least) to quote Napoleon Dynamite's dialogue.
The title character is played extremely convincingly by Jon Heder (another person I'd never heard of before, but that's okay- I don't think he's heard of me either). Heder fully is Napoleon Dynamite here; so fully, that you completely forget it is just an actor playing this weird dude.
Napoleon is a geek, but not the "cool" kind of geek, like the Buttonhole army (hey, that's my story and I'm sticking to it). He's more of a nerd, I suppose. He's really a total, hopeless loser in nearly every way. Napoleon looks completely silly with his Ronald McDonald-esque hair, his moon boots, his daggy T-shirts, his hollow gaze beneath huge rimmed glasses and the braces on display in his perpetually gaping mouth.
Napoleon befriends his high school's "new kid" Pedro (Efren Ramirez with an equally believable performance), who is probably the only person on the planet as uncool as he is. Tired of being outcasts, the two decide that Pedro should run for Student Body President against the far more popular (and bitchy) Summer Wheatley (played by Haylie Duff. She is Hilary's sister. I gather neither of them were named after Homer Simpson's favourite beverage).
There are a few sub-plots going on as well, such as the one involving Napoleon's brother Kip (Aaron Ruell, he's not well known either, but if you ever watched the show "Reno 911" on pay TV you might recognize him) and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries, likely best known as Harvey in Welcome to the Jungle/The Rundown) which I won't go into here because...I can't be bothered.
But, honestly, the story never seems to be too much of a focus in Napoleon Dynamite. It feels like it is there more as just a framework to help keep things in some kind of order. The movie is much more about putting these unusual characters in a variety of situations and observing how they act and develop from beginning to end. In that sense, I think it is very effective, but if you just want a straight forward plot-driven movie, you may find this one a little meandering.
The film is set in Preston Idaho in our present time, or close to it, but it does have a retro feel to it in many respects. The décor of the houses, the clothes everyone gets around in and so forth, it all has a distinctly 80's (or even 70's in some cases) look about it. Apparently though, according to the director and others who actually live/d there, Preston really is like that. The place is just stuck in a bit of time warp. This works in the movie's favour and really helps add to its highly distinctive nature.
What will make or break Napoleon Dynamite for the majority of viewers is whether or not they find it funny. I certainly do, but this kind of humour (and to a lesser extent all kinds of humour) will work well for some and not work at all for others. Here's an example of the films dialogue, spoken by Napoleon in his droll voice just after he first meets Pedro:
|Yeah...just read my previous caption and repeat it for this one |
"You know, there's like a butt-load of gangs at this school. This one gang kept wanting me to join because I'm pretty good with a bo staff."
Obviously it works much better in context, but if you find that line even slightly amusing you ought to give the movie a shot. If the line leaves you wondering why the hell anyone would find such a thing funny…it is a pretty good bet you won't dig this flick too much. There is nothing wrong with that either way, humour is extremely subjective at the best of times and in this case it is even more so than usual.
When, or if, you get into Napoleon Dynamite you might be surprised by just how much you find yourself caring about these oddballs. The desire to cheer for the underdog kicks in, though it is never shoved down your throat that you are expected to react that way.
There are only a couple of extras on the DVD, so it loses some points in that area, but the commentary track is pretty good at least.
Another notable thing about Napoleon Dynamite is that the movie has no swearing, no sex scenes and no violence. Not once did I find myself missing any of those things. I mean, I have nothing against any of those things either, but just the fact that the movie works so well without them goes to show they are, often, far from essential.
I like this movie very much and say it is one people really should watch and see for themselves if they like it too. That's the only way to find out whether you'll just shrug and put Napoleon Dynamite back on the shelf after viewing it, or watch through it a few more times...and maybe even start quoting the dialogue yourself.
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What are you gonna do today, Napoleon? Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!