Film review by: Witney Seibold
Everyone knew a kid like Napoleon Dynamite in high school. The fantasy-obsessed, only-had-one-facial-expression dork who bragged about his nunchuck skills (or in Napoleon’s case, “numb-chucks”), and possibly owned a few knives. The one who would sigh very heavily and never talk to you. Jared Hess‘ new film about said kid is funny, kind of charming, a little quirky, and accurately captures the character of a certain breed of adolescent. It also, unfortunately, paints its characters in broad strokes a little too often, and is so aggressively twee and arch, that it will not rise tothe cult status it’s shooting for (a status already enjoyed by other indie films like “The Royal Tennenbaums,” “Welcome to the Dollhouse,” and “Donnie Darko.” Geek chic, if you will).
Note from the year 2009: I have seen Halloween costumes, t-shirts, and other collectible accoutrements surrounding “”Napoleon Dynamite.” I guess my prediction was wrong.
There is no real story, per se, but we do get a taste of Naploeon’s world. He lives with his dunebuggy-riding grandmother and chat-room addict older brother Kip (a wispy Aaron Ruell). When grandma is injured, his slimy shyster uncle Rico (Jon Gries) moves in. Napoleon befriends Pedro (Efren Ramirez), the only non-white person at his school, and who is almost as quiet and weird as Napoleon. There’s also a sort-of romance between he and Deb (Tina Majorino), a mail-order time-machine that does nothing but shock the tar outta you, a llama, a low-rider, and a special pants pocket for tater tots. Small parts were awarded to Diedrich Bader, as a 1980s tough-guy wrestler, and Haylie Duff playing a shallow blonde cheerleader idiot (what a stretch).
But the film belongs to Jon Heder, belligerent, obsessed, awkward, content, perfect in the role of Napoleon Dynamite. His delivery, face, posture all add to the character and, hence, to the film’s world. The film, however, spends far too much mocking its characters when it should be celebrating them. It’s funny to be sure, but we get too many moments when we’re laughing at the peculiarities of the characters, and not rooting for them. Example: there is a romance between Kip and his internet love late in the film. The love should be something liberating and true, but instead we get awkward shots of him trying to be sexy. It struck me as a little mean. This film may not reach the status of its forebears, but it’s certainly enjoyable, and, again, Jon Heder is excellent.