I searched for this movie in the index, noticed it wasn't there so I thought I'd do a review. I know this is a love-it-or-hate-it type of film, so right off the bat, I'll say it. I love this film. It's a review I had in my harddrive for awhile so it could seem dated and less informed now that Hess and Heder have moved on to bigger but not-better things.
Remember that one guy in school that used to annoy you? Who could ever forget the ever outcasted misfit, the one who was picked on by the bigger kids and the smart nerds just for existing among us. Doesnt just thinking about his antics right now bring a smile to your face? From first time writer-director, Jared Hess and his wife Jerusha Hess comes 2004s most original and charming comedies, Napoleon Dynamite.
Far from being a movie about Elvis Costello (back in the 80s, he released an album Blood and Chocolate under the pseudonym, Napoleon Dynamite) and music, it events the days and the nights of eponymous high-school pariah Napoleon Dynamite and his equally dysfunctional friends and family. Its unique qualities does not shine through in its plot but instead in its characters. The oddball characters stand out like rejects of American Idol while the normal ones look on judgingly.
Napoleon is played to perfection by a talented Jon Heder and accepts his lowly existence with a clueless gaze that can only be described as a trademark stare of a lobotomy victim. Set in the dull midwestern town of Preston, Idaho, the story pivots around the trials and tribulations school adolescence of Napoleon and his new Hispanic best friend that just moved into town, Pedro (Efren Ramirez) who are preparing to find dates for the upcoming school dance and in the process seize the title of Student Body President from popular snob, Summer (Haylie Duff).
In the hands of Hollywood, this movie would reek of unoriginality and disrespect to more discerning audiences. However, the film was handled with care by Jared Hess considering the amount of detail that went into the retro costumes that kept me wondering if the films characters were caught in an 80s time warp.
Certain storylines threatened to be cliched, such as the school campaign for President, were intertwined with different and heartfelt plot threads that helped keep it fresh such as Napoleons brother Kips (Aaron Ruell) cyber romance with his online chat buddy and his slimy-as-a-snake, ex-jock Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) who will do whatever (even peddle herbal breast enchancements to local women) to achieve his dreams of sports greatness. Napoleons love interest is Deb (Tina Majorino), who tries to sell things door-to-door to fund college.
Napoleon Dynamites main pull is that it has mainly used under-exposed actors on a shoe-string budget defining the indie fairytale. It has also enabled the director to showcase a genuine cast lead by Jon Heders remarkably understated performance. Each character is made to be interesting as they all have a niche and they are unaware of their idiosyncrasies. Its humour is simplistic and absurd at best and appeals to our guilty desire to laugh at others who seem less evolved than us. If that sounded crass, we have to distinguish that we do not laugh at Napoleons individualism, we laugh at him because we recognise him in someone we know and appreciate them for it.
As a $400,000 movie that received applause from everyone at Sundance to the sleeper box-office hit in the United States that earned over $45 million, Napoleon Dynamite proves that indie productions do not just appeal to the artsy moviegoer but to everybody, and everybody loves an underdog. Hollywood could have never came up with something this subversive, yet poignant and most importantly different film such as this cinemas should take note and bring us these gems sooner.