Napoleon Dynamite
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Jared Hess
scr Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
with Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino, Sandy Martin, Haylie Duff, Diedrich Bader, Trevor Snarr, Shondrella Avery, Bracken Johnson, Emily Kennard
release US 11.Jun.04, UK 3.Dec.04
04/US 1h26

He ain't heavy: Ruell and Heder

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With a gentle, rude sense of humour, it's fairly easy to see why this small film is a cult hit. But unless you feel better than everyone around you and enjoy laughing at the stupid things they do, avoid this film like the plague.

Napoleon (Heder) is a dweeby freak in his Idaho high school, the butt of everyone's jokes, and for good reason. He lives with his 32-year-old nerd brother Kip (Ruell) and his grandma (Martin), who injures her back and sends greasy salesman Uncle Rico (Gries) to stay with them. Meanwhile, Napoleon befriends a new student from Mexico (Ramirez), and the two of them try to get cool girls (Duff and Kennard) to go to the school dance with them (fat chance), while another girl (Majorino) secretly pines for Napoleon.

The film is essentially a series of silly, low-key scenes that ask us to laugh at the ludicrous behaviour of the characters. It's like American Pie on valium, slow and drained of almost all energy. There are some genuinely funny bits that lampoon small-town life (Rex Kwon Do!), but mostly it's just people doing everyday random things. It's not remotely clever, it doesn't say anything and all of the characters are deeply annoying. The closest comparisons, Beavis & Butt-head, seem like social-satire geniuses next to these dimwits.

You get the feeling the husband-and-wife filmmakers think everything here is awash with warm whimsy and goofy good humour. But the movie actually bubbles with barely suppressed loathing for its characters and setting. It also ineptly calls upon tired movie cliches to drive the plot--a school election, the prom, a redemptive talent show, a nerd surprising everyone with hidden talents, a bombshell falling for a geek, and a cheap and totally unearned sentimental finale.

In the end we just long for even a glimpse of youthful energy--the film is beyond lethargic. We also crave something that's actually funny, besides merely amusing or nostalgic. Only sniggering audiences who feel superior to the quirky people on screen will enjoy this film. And something tells me that's not what the filmmakers had in mind.

cert PG themes, language 29.Oct.04

R E A D E R  R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Napoleon Dynamite william, sunnyvale: 5/5 "A day after watching the film, I found myself remembering certain scenes and just breaking into laughter all over again. Your review suggests that only those who enjoy laughing at stupid things everyday people do could enjoy this film, the corollary being, yeah, what's your point? Oh wait. I know. You think it WRONG to laugh at the stupid things everyday people do. Guess that makes me a criminal." (2.Dec.04)

Sean, Virginia: 5/5 "This is quite possibly the best film I have see this year, if not one of the best films ever. I laughed out loud over and over again through out this film, which I rarely ever do. It has been 2 days now since I watched it and I, happily, can not get it out of my mind. It was one of the most authentic portrayals of real life that i have seen on film in quite some time. I grew up in a little nowhere town. I grew up with all of these characters and all of their quirks. Just because people are used to degrading humor that is rolled out in films like American Pie, doesn't mean that all comedies about youth need to be stacked up against those films, but I digress. This film has entertained me and all of the people I know who have seen it. I highly recommend it to all." (24.Dec.04)

Napoleon Dynamite Joni, Palo Alto: 5/5 "Of course people love to laugh at the everyday stupid things people do. This is without equal the funniest film I've seen in more than a year. I find, though, that certain people don't like it because they don't have any frame of reference from which to understand its characters - i.e., my friends who were born and raised in wealthy families in Manhattan." (10.Jan.05)

Lori, Kansas: 1/5 "I could only watch it for about a half hour before becoming thoroughly depressed. There was nothing remotely funny or clever about this movie, and all of the characters, especially Napoleon, were annoying and stupid." (16.Feb.05)

Jim, Idaho: 1/5 "The worst movie I have ever seen. I have never known anyone in my life who was anything like these people, and if I did I would pity them rather then find them amusing." (17.Apr.05)

Napoleon Dynamite Justin Dalo, Pittsburgh: 2.5/5 "This movie can be a lighthearted look back at our childhood or a cynical, shallow laugh at the inflection of Napoleons voice, among other things. We all have done something like hit a jump with our bike and found it exhilarating, although other, more experienced extreme bike riders would have thought it a pathetic attempt. The movie's comment comes down to the fact that some people are more content with hitting that same jump over and over again, while others have the desire to either destroy themself or one up the next person, if you can seperate the two." (13.Jul.05)

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall