Napoleon Dynamite is a perfect example of why indie films scored big this year. The film was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004 and has quickly become eligible for cult classic status. Unpretentious, quirky and just left of mainstream, the movie follows the mundane, often humiliating experiences of Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder), a Preston, Idaho, high school student and world-class nerd. Dynamite's eccentric home life, juxtaposed with his utter inability to successfully navigate even the most basic social situations, makes for a series of hilarious scenes and one-liners. The movie lacks a strong plot, but then that's the point: There isn't much going on in Preston, Idaho, after all, and Napoleon's life is basically aimless.
Written and directed by Jared Hess, with the help of his wife, Jerusha Hess, Napoleon Dynamite has been lauded for its original and unexpected perspective. Hess, 26, hails from Preston himself, and he depicts his hometown with the sarcasm and lack of sentimentality that can be mustered only by one who has suffered long years of youth in a stiflingly empty place. Though the film takes some wicked and snarky shots at the lives of rural geeks, Hess avoids the offensive: there's no foul language, sex, violence (other than some general bullying) or drugs. There's not even any caffeine in this movie.
Certain details are too precious to be hilarious though, such as Dynamite's astute milk taste testing skills and his skinny, effeminate older brother's transformation into a wannabe thug. Still, Heder pulls off the kitschy nerd with conviction and finesse. Dynamite dons impressive geek attire: moon boots tugged up over his pants and lame screen-printed T-shirts, along with Velcro folders filled with pencil renderings of "ligers," Napoleon's favorite animal (a lion and a tiger mixed). You may be rooting for poor Napoleon, but you still laugh when he's teased, neglected and rejected, mostly because his antics warrant the treatment.
Movie review and entertainment Web sites have message boards filled with favorite lines and scenes from the movie, and replicated apparel and props from the film are a big hit. There are sure to be plenty of Napoleon Dynamites wandering around next Halloween.
Some people just don't understand Napoleon Dynamite, but then some people don't get what's so cool about being a geek.
Publication date: 1/06/04