And I thought “Rocket Science” was bad. Compared to “Napoleon Dynamite,” Jared Hess’ 2003 film, “Science” is “The Seventh Seal” of independent comedies.
Yeah, that’s how pissed off I was while watching “Napoleon;” after an innovative and downright clever opening credits sequence (seriously, its far superior to the actual movie), we meet Napoleon (Jon Heder), a somnambulatory loser living in Smalltown, Idaho; he has no friends, no goals, nothing to look forward to (and by a cruel twist of fate, neither do we).
When Napoleon’s grandmother is injured in an off-roading accident, his Uncle Rico (John Gries) moves in to take care of him and his brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), age 32. Rico kind of sums up one reason why I hated this movie; as a character, he’s stuck in 1982, constantly reliving his could-have-been-a-contender moment and letting the rest of his life fritter away.
Along with Rico, this entire movie is stuck in 1982; from the set design, costumes, hairstyles, job choices and makeup, “Napoleon Dynamite” is an homage to the ’80s, infused with the ’90s slacker ennui. It’s a horrifying combination that makes the film look ugly and the characters, from the hero to the villains, thoroughly unlikeable.
But fear not, the movie does have some plot to it; Napoleon befriends the new kid in school, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), another kid sleepwalking through life (it appears to be a town-wide epidemic). After getting shot down for the affections of the most popular girl in school, Summer (Haylie Duff), Pedro decides to run for student body president against Summer. Napoleon, being the good sport that he is, vows to help out.
And here we see the other point the bugged me about this movie; it’s a geekboy’s wet dream of what high school (and life) should be like. Sorry, but the geek no one has heard of doesn’t win the election; the computer nerd doesn’t meet some smoking hottie in a chat room; and the pathetic middle-aged man stuck in the past doesn’t suddenly become a better person after meeting the right woman.
I sound a little bitter here, I won’t deny it, but I’m angry because the film is trying to be some realistic portrait of what high school is like, and it fails miserably at even approaching reality.
“Napoleon Dynamite” reminds me of an essay I once had to read for a college English class; the message was simple, follow your dreams, work hard for them and they’ll come true. As I pointed out in my essay (which I got an A on), that’s ludicrous; not everyone’s dream comes true, not everyone gets what they work for. It’s nave to think that something as simple and devastating as popularity can be overcome by, I must admit, a killer dance routine.
That’s called real life. Hess, look into that for your next movie.
“Napoleon Dynamite” (2003)
Directed by Jared Hess
Written by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess
Starring: Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)
Jon Gries (Uncle Rico)
Efren Ramirez (Pedro Sanchez)
Aaron Ruell (Kip Dynamite)