Napoleon Dynamite (2004)


It’s been 12 years since the release of Napoleon Dynamite, and I have to say, it’s still one of the most awkward movies I’ve ever watched.

There’s really no way to properly describe this film. It’s the story of a socially awkward teenager (Napoleon), living a typical high school existence in rural Idaho. Only everyone dresses like it’s the 1970s and uses 1980s technology, despite it being the early 2000s. The aesthetic feels like a student film made by someone who is trying to emulate Wes Anderson, but has only ever had his movies described to them.

As weird and awkward as it is, this is still an incredibly funny film. It’s one of those movies that I definitely need to be in the right mood to watch, and when I am I find myself laughing hysterically. Jon Heder is perfection as the titular Dynamite. At times his social awkwardness is cringe-worthy, but you still want to root for him. It’s a shame that Heder wasn’t able to properly capitalize on this role. The only big role he had post-Dynamite was opposite Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory. As much as I enjoy that movie, it’s not Ferrell’s best and didn’t serve Heder as well as it could have.

The rest of Dynamite‘s cast is also perfect, with standouts being Efren Ramirez as Napoleon’s quiet friend Pedro, and Jon Gries as the star’s jerky Uncle Rico. The performances by the cast really sell the film. And they need to, because there isn’t much of a plot to this movie. It’s loosely tied around Pedro running for class president, but even that feels more like a subplot to the many strange and random antics that everyone gets up to.

There isn’t much else I can say to describe this film. It’s one of those movies that you have to see to get (And even then you may not really get it.). This is one of those indie cult classics that divides audiences, so I fully expect there to be people who absolutely hate it. For me, it’s 90 minutes of fun.

Rating: B

This little indie darling came out and took everyone by surprise. In the years that followed it has developed quite the cult following, leading to several vote for Pedro T-Shirts (I myself owned one at one stage) and even an animated series.

Jon Heder plays the titular Napoleon Dynamite, a nerdy teenager who hates most things about life except ligers and awesome bo staff skills. When his grandmother has to leave suddenly, he is upset at the fact he has to be babysat by his older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell) and his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries). Taking his mind off the terrible situation at home is his barely tolerable school life, where he is constantly accosted by school bullies. Things start to improve when he befriends a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez). He helps him run for school president and also develops a crush on a cute girl (Tina Marjorino).

Not much really happens in this film. It is mostly a series of skits leading up to the climactic scene where we get to see Napoleon show off his newly learnt dance moves and potentially save the election for his new friend. This dancing scene is by far the film’s highlight. I know a few people who haven’t seen the whole movie, but have seen the dancing scene, which they think qualifies as seeing all of the highlights. They’re somewhat right, but I liken only seeing that scene as only hearing the punchline of a joke. Seeing what leads Napoleon to dance on stage makes the scene so much more satisfying. I’m thinking about his dancing now and laughing, it is truly brilliant. Jon Heder plays the role of Napoleon so well. It is a shame he hasn’t gone on to bigger things. Outside of the ice skating flick Blades of Glory, Heder never really managed to capitalise on the popularity this role provided, which is a real shame. I would like to see him doing more because this role shows how good he can be. The character of Napoleon is not that likable, but there is a certain charm to Heder’s performance that makes you still root for him.

The cast is full of mostly unknowns, which is fine, and they all take the quirkiness vibe felt throughout the film and run with it. Keep your eye out for Hilary Duff’s sister Haylie as a popular student who makes Napoleon’s life difficult.

This independent film from Jared Hess is still a winner, taking a group of quirky and generally unlikable characters, while also adding some small town charm and heart to create one of the funniest films in a long time.

Rating: B+

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