Friday, February 13, 2015

Mock Squid Soup: Napoleon Dynamite

MOCK! and The Armchair Squid are proud to welcome you to Mock Squid Soup: A Film Society.  Each month, on the second Friday, we shall host a bloghop devoted to a particular movie.  We invite others to watch the same film and post their own reviews.  Our dear friend Cherdo is joining us as this month's guest co-host.  This month's movie is...

Title: Napoleon Dynamite
Director: Jared Hess
Original Release: 2004
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Years ago, I listened to an interview on NPR of the guy at Netflix who was in charge of their algorithms for movie recommendations.  Out of all the DVDs in their endless catalog, there was one movie they just couldn't figure out: Napoleon Dynamite.  They could detect no pattern in customers' other preferences that would indicate whether or not they would like the movie.  There was no other film for providing a meaningful comparison.  Hess's creation was unique.

Napoleon Dynamite is one of the great small budget success stories in the history of cinema.  Made on a budget of $400,000, it pulled in over $46 million at the box office.  The titular character is a misfit teen in rural Idaho.  He is ridiculed and abused at school.  He struggles even to make friends let alone find dates.  His socially awkward family is no help at all.  It's the basic template for hundreds of teenager tales.

Yet Napoleon Dynamite is unlike any of them.  Dialogue is sparse.  Idaho's low horizon landscape provides a stark contrast with the usual cookie-cutter, suburban backdrop.  Napoleon only barely manages to be a sympathetic character.

Through all of the considerable awkwardness, the story works.  Napoleon's weird quirks like being a milk-tasting expert and a tetherball enthusiast are endearing.  All builds to a glorious climactic scene: Napoleon's impromptu dance performance after best friend Pedro's limp-flounder campaign speech.  Even with lukewarm feelings for the rest of the movie, it's hard to stifle an emotional reaction to that scene.

[Aside - I know it's meant to be xenophobic and obnoxious and it certainly is both. But seriously, would chimichangas for school lunch really be so horrible?  I'll have some!]

Is Napoleon Dynamite a great movie?  I don't know.  For me, it's impossible not to have some admiration for a work of art in any medium that transcends comparisons.  I also love knowing that future generations will look at photos from the era and puzzle over the "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts some of their misfit ancestors were wearing.  All that said, parts of the film are challenging to endure.  I'm not a huge fan of social discomfort humor and Napoleon Dynamite is dripping with it.  I suppose I can rest easy knowing my middle-of-the-pack rating won't have the slightest impact on my Netflix recommendations.

We hope that you, too, will watch Napoleon Dynamite and join in our discussion.  I'll post March's sign-up list tomorrow.  Our feature on Friday, March 13th shall be...

A new idea.  Instead of selecting one film for all to watch, we're going to try a Cephalopod Coffeehouse style arrangement.  Everyone is invited to write a review of any movie they would like to share.  Then a wrinkle: in April, everyone will pick one of the other people's movies to review.  Many thanks to the boundlessly wise Nancy Mock for the idea!

In the meantime, for the Napoleon Dynamite discussion, please sign on to the list below.


21 comments:

  1. I'd like to give this move another chance. I tried watching it years ago, but stopped within 15-20 minutes.

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    1. It's not for everyone. That much is abundantly clear. But it touches a nerve. Whether it's an amusing tickle or an annoying poke is the question for the beholder.

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  2. I haven't seen Napoleon in a long time and only watched it grudgingly because it looked so dumb, but I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed it. Evidently not enough to have ever seen it again but, maybe, I should.

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    1. This was my second time. I don't know if I would have watched it again without this prompting but I'm glad I did.

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  3. He is such an awkward geek who irritatingly can never look up but he still is his own person in a freaky way:) I enjoyed the weirdness but I was also not a huge fan even though there were laugh out loud moments. Glad to be part of this!

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    1. I loved the comment in your post, Brigit, about not being able to tell if his eyes are open.

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    2. I will love to play again:) We pick the movie next so when does this happen and when should I post?

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  4. I'm the wild card who suggested this movie and I am loving your review. Yours is far better than mine, and I actually love the awkward social ineptitude of Napoleon Dynamite. Better him than me, brother!

    It just occurred to me that it is him AND me that have a touch of that.

    Thanks again, Squid! :-)

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    1. My pleasure, Cherdo! It was a fine suggestion.

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  5. Another I haven't seen. And no listing for next month?

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  6. Love the movie reviews! I can't wait to read everyone's thoughts and maybe I will get to watch it in time. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. Join us this next month, Jess! You can pick your own movie this time.

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  7. I couldn't figure out why my grown children loved the movie so, so, I watched it and found it adorable. Love that movie. If you like comedies, also What About Bob and The Jerk are hysterical.

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    1. I've seen both, though not in many years. The Jerk is wonderful.

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  8. I've never watched Napoleon Dynamite but my children enjoyed it. As a teacher, I get tired of all those films about misfit teenagers. They all seem the same.

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    1. I know what you mean about teen films but this one is genuinely different.

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  9. Interesting choice and review.
    I never saw this movie and at one time thought I would like to but I have lost interest. Plus this month so far it turning out to be as busy and horrible as last month.
    I hope to join in on the book review this month

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I hope you will join us for the Coffeehouse, parsnip!

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  10. I think this is a very fair review. Even though I loved this film, its a bit love hate. There are some painful moments to watch, but the overall spirit of friendship and under dong trimp will get to me everytime.

    I didn't know Neflix was having such a problem with this movie, but it make total sense because the movie doesn't, exactly.

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