Napoleon Dynamite (2004) – A Review

Napoleon Dynamite cult comedy 2004
Napoleon Dynamite

For some reason I keep stumbling onto Napoleon Dynamite on cable. It’s happened like three times in the last month. And I keep watching it until the end.

It’s such a strange, quirky movie. Everything about it is goofy. The characters. The settings. The presentation. It could have been a complete disaster of a film and a chore to sit through. However, the cast of actors is really what saves it and has made Napoleon Dynamite an entertaining screwy experience.

Jon Heder plays the title character. Napoleon is not only an awkward teen, he’s off the charts strange. Heder manages to play Napoleon with all his dippy behaviors and tics in a way that’s there’s nothing weird about them in his part of the universe. We’re of course watching from the outside so we can enjoy just how bizarre all this is. His brother Kip and Uncle Rico are co-existing alongside Napoleon with their own outlandish ideas. Kip wants to be a cage fighter. Uncle Rico wants to time travel.

The film is more about experiencing life with these characters and watching them than following any real linear story. The fun of the film is getting to see Napoleon experience life with high school pals Pedro and Deb. (I always have to remind myself Deb was once splashing around with Kevin Costner in Waterworld)

They also fit into this unique collection of main characters. Director Jared Hess frames shots for maximum comic effect using the flat landscapes of Idaho, strange music cues, holding the camera on characters, close-ups of objects. And for the most part it works fairly well.

Even with the effective direction, the wacky evolution of events and the demented episodes the characters experience they would not have been as amusing to watch had it not been for this group of actors and their interpretations of these characters.

I haven’t seen Jon Heder in awhile. I remember he did that skating movie with Will Ferral, but after that I haven’t seen him much. I wonder if he’ll end up being a one hit wonder.

Pedro Napoleon Dynamite Deb
Pedro, Napoleon and Deb

Napoleon Dynamite is not for everyone. I can easily see how some people might be turned off by it. It’s not the kind of movie that is setting out to please the widest possible audience it can. It has it’s own style and sticks with it, which is cool. So not surprisingly it’s claimed a fair share of devoted followers.It’s vastly different than more popular high school comedies. For instance, my sisters like Sixteen Candles, Pretty In Pink – I know for a fact they would hate Napoleon Dynamite.

I think Napoleon Dynamite, while not being a great film, is the closest thing that I’ve seen in the last ten to fifteeen years that is actually a funny movie about a high school-aged character. I’ll occasionally look back at the teen/sex films of the 1980s. It’s a type of genre that was extremely popular during that decade. Quality movies starring teen heroes almost seemed to have disappeared today. I think most of the teen stories taking place nowadays are on television.

Strangely enough this zany little comedy is the most memorable teen comedy made in recent years that I can think of. Or at least one that I’ve actually enjoyed.


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2 Responses

  1. The characters are so interesting, I always thought it was a pity that they had to include the Pedro For President storyline; it's as if they had a great idea for an essentially plotless film and then chickened out at the last minute, a la "The Seinfeld Pilot"- "Ok, this film has to be about SOMETHING…"

    And whenever I re-watch this film, I skip over the wedding scene at the end, with Napoleon galloping in on a horse. This seems out of place, coming out of nowhere, and detrimental to the unique believability of the rest of the film. The scene with Napoleon and his maybe-girlfriend playing to the lyrics of "When in Rome" could not be improved upon as a closer for this instant classic. They shouldn't have tried.

    • You make a good point about that wedding scene – I always forget about it and it does seem like it doesn't fit in with the rest of the movie. Like they were pushing the weirdness too far with it and it doesn't feel as genuine as the rest of the bizarreness in the movie. At least they put it in after the closing credits.

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