Napoleon is dyno-mite
by Dan MacRae
Quirky film conquers
No semen. No dog poop. No erection jokes. No grandmothers flipping people off. Napoleon Dynamite hasn’t really read the formula sheet for how a teen comedy is supposed to work. And we are lucky for it. Napoleon Dynamite is a strange, twisted little comedy that may be the most charming film of the year.
We are thrust into the barren, strange world of Preston, Idaho (which actually resembles much of the Prairies of rural Canada), where our hero is Napoleon Dynamite (played with impossible genius by Jon Heder). A gawky, mouthbreathing, uncoordinated, 17-year-old geek with pockets stuffed with tater tots and a notebook full of drawings of mystical creatures.
With all this going against him, he still has a thorny personality and tends to revel in his loner status. Somehow in spite of all that, Napoleon does make a friend (based in part on this new kid having the school’s only mustache), the town’s only Latino kid, Pedro.
We don’t really get to understand if Napoleon has any passions in life, aside from drawing “ligers” (a combination of lion and tiger) and working on his dance moves (which represent a white-boy funky epilpsy). Miraculously, we are absolutely in love with this loser.
Heder has made Napoleon into a neccessity to watch. You would watch with rapt attention even if this space-booted, red-afro-ed, chronically lying dork was just sleeping. Luckily, he’s not sleeping, but usually dancing, fighting his 32-year-old equally geeky brother or playing tetherball against himself. We root for him to succeed, but he has a tendency to sabotage.
When Deb, the only girl on the planet who could possibly like Napoleon, arrives at his house selling braided lanyards door-to-door, Napoleon dismisses her saying “I already made, like, infinity of those in scout camp.” Each little event in Napoleon’s geeky little life is a huge test. Napoleon has a tendency to fail these tests.
This is the first feature film from Jared Hess (he and his wife Jerusha co-wrote), and it’s amazing to watch. It resembles something from Wes Anderson in how dark the humour can be, but how we can still love all their characters, no matter how impossible they can be sometimes. It’s characters that can be colourful and deadpan, with the widespread Idaho backdrop to lap up.
Also, there’s a working knowledge of how dreadful school can be. The blandness of the popular kids, and standoffishness of nerds. It all builds up to one amazing explosion of nerd revolution. Napoleon’s legendary soul-freeing dance in front of the school to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat.” He flails, he thrusts, he owns that moment of time.
Napoleon Dynamite is one fascinating piece of work. And it makes up for every tired cum drinking or masturbation joke you’ve had to endure in high school movies for the past decade. All hail Napoleon Dynamite.