Napoleon Dynamite, 2004 (film review)

napoleon dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite is an off the wall, bizarre comedy set in Idaho which follows the misadventures of Napoleon (John Heder), a fuzzy-haired, uncharismatic teenage boy, his equally strange family and his friend, Pedro (Efrem Ramirez). Although billed as a comedy, there are no punchlines, no carefully crafted verbal or visual jokes – its humour stems purely from its oddness and frequent deadpan delivery. In fact, it even lacks a coherent plot, as it appears to be a string of smaller events that never come to any conclusion. Despite this, Napoleon Dynamite is an entertaining celebration of awkwardness, the geek and everything uncool.

Napoleon lives with his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), an equally geeky looking youth who spends most of his waking hours on internet chatrooms (talking often to his “girlfriend”, who in an unexpected twist of events turns out to be real), and his eccentric grandmother who injures herself in a dune-buggy accident at the beginning of the film, meaning that the boys’ Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) has to come and keep an eye on them. Uncle Rico believes that he is an undiscovered baseball talent (he is not) and when he is not practising his sport, he is a door-to-door salesman specialising in herbal breast enlargement medicine. Napoleon seems friendless until he meets Pedro, an equally deadpan Mexican teenager who decides that he wants to run for class president at their high school against popular cheerleader Summer (Haylie Duff), a vain but none the less entertaining endeavour.

napoleon dynamite 2

While some may find the maintained awkwardness and lack of classic comedy in this film a trial, I found its kookiness and off the wall humour charming. Furthermore, it has a carefully crafted aesthetic and nostalgic colour scheme which is consistently pleasing to the eye. If you watch it for nothing else, watch it for that and Napoleon’s epic dance scene towards the end of the film (the most iconic portion of the whole movie).

This is filmmaker Jared Hess’s directorial debut, which he also co-wrote, and later produced an animated TV series of with the same name. He also wrote Nacho Libre in 2006, Gentleman Broncos in 2009 and directed Masterminds in 2016.


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