In a crowded summer with plenty of big-budget films with huge stars, it seems a difficult time for anything going against the cookie-cutter Hollywood formula to be noticed. It seems as if the theater marquee is getting crowded with more and more sequels, prequels and remakes leaving most viewers gasping for originality. Well, here to save the summer comes “Napoleon Dynamite,” the most original and inventive film so far this year.
The film focuses on the character of Napoleon Dynamite, a huge nerd who just thinks that wizards and dragons are totally sweet, and that the Loch Ness monster is extremely interesting. He is happy living at home with his grandmother, brother and pet llama Tina, that is, until everything starts to go awry.
After Napoleon’s grandmother injures herself in an accident, his Uncle Rico appears to look after Napoleon and his 32-year-old brother Kip, who spends most of his time online “chatting with babes.” Uncle Rico, who’s nostalgically longing to return to the year 1982, uses Napoleon’s home as a base of operations for a get-rich-quick scheme involving nylon polymer Tupperware and ensues to ruin Napoleon’s life. Not to mention Napoleon is simultaneously trying to help his new best friend Pedro win the school presidential election against the incredibly popular, but evil Summer Wheatley.
“Napoleon Dynamite” has surprisingly huge laughs for such a small film. This quirky comedy owes its success chiefly to its star, and star is the most appropriate word for Jon Heder, who plays the title role.
Delivering most of his lines while staring blankly (usually under half-closed eyes), he always seems irritated. And why wouldn’t he be? He’s the biggest loser in loserville, a.k.a. small-town Idaho, but he’s clueless to his status as a complete loser in the heirarchy of his high school. Despite calling everyone he meets a “friggin’ idiot!,” thanks to Heder’s career-making performance and writer/director Jared Hess’ hilarious script, Napoleon remains an endearing character.
With the best talent show performances since Sparkle Motion in “Donnie Darko,” “Napoleon Dynamite” delivers laughs, something that the never-ending slew of gross-out, teen comedies do not, and in a very unconventional way. The film is incredibly oddly paced, with several different plotlines like the wistful Uncle Rico’s sleazy business ventures, Kip’s Internet girlfriend Lafawnduh and Pedro’s battle for the school presidency. These storylines, for the most part, interweave, but Hess avoids conforming to a traditional Hollywood story arch.
The look of Hess’ film wonderfully complements the characters, from Napoleon’s ultra-geeky t-shirts to the multi-colored lockers that adorn the hallways of his school. Hess documents his Midwest landscape with a mostly immobile camera, letting his characters liven the spirit of the film.
Without a doubt the most quotable film of the past few years, “Napoleon Dynamite” is destined for cult status with the likes of “The Big Lebowski” and “Wet Hot American Summer.” It’s an endlessly pleasing experience that demands several views to soak up all of its creative genius.