Title: Napoleon Dynamite
Director: Jared Hess
Original Release: 2004
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
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.