out of Five
Running time: 86
Like Revenge of the Nerds, only without the revenge – an offbeat, frequently funny comedy that gradually wins you over, much like its central character.
Napoleon Dynamite was something of a sleeper hit in the States – it opened there back in June and, as of October, was still clinging to the box office top 15. It remains to be seen whether it will do quite so well over here, but it’s an enjoyable, offbeat film that doesn’t rely on the usual teen movie jokes involving sex, drugs, and swearing, largely because writer-director Jared Hess and his wife, co-writer Jerusha Hess graduated from Brigham Young University film school and their Mormon faith prohibited such material.
Middle Of Nowhere
The film is set in Preston, Idaho (i.e. the middle of freaking nowhere). Jon Heder plays Napoleon Dynamite, a tall, gawky, mouth-breathing type with thick glasses and a flame red afro hair-do. He possesses little or no social skills and treats everyone with a sort of stroppy exasperation.
Napoleon lives with his even weirder family, including his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), who spends all his time in chat rooms looking for love (“Don’t be jealous just because I’ve been talking to hot babes all day”) and his quad-bike riding grandmother, whose temporary absence allows creepy Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) to move in, a herbal bust-enhancement salesman obsessed with recapturing his high school glory days as a football player.
There isn’t much of a plot to speak of – Napoleon befriends Pedro (Efrem Ramirez) by default and decides to help manage his campaign to become class president. He also has a love interest of sorts in the shape of his friend Deb (Tina Majorino – the moppet from Waterworld, all growed up), only his lady-killing skills only extend to a cut-in dance at the high school prom and a game of tetherball.
Wealth Of Little Details
The humour in Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t come from characters being witty or knowing – we’re mostly laughing at them rather than with them. Napoleon himself isn’t even all that likeable; he’s a long way from the cliché of the lonely nerd who just wants to be loved or the supercool archness of Ghost World’s Enid. Mostly he’s content just to sit around drawing ligers (don’t ask) or practising “sweet jumps” on Pedro’s bike without injuring himself in the testicles. However, like the film, Napoleon gradually wins you over and there’s a terrific pay-off in which Napoleon demonstrates that he really does have “sweet skillz” after all.
There’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly in the wealth of little details (the inventive credit sequence; the bizarre costumes and hair-dos) and off-the-wall moments such as Kip and Napoleon’s “Rex Kwan-do” class. There are also some quality slapstick moments that are up there with the similar gags in Dodgeball. It’s also extremely well acted, particularly by Jon Heder and has a touching, understated final scene.
In short, Napoleon Dynamite is not your typical Hollywood teen flick – instead it’s an enjoyably off-kilter comedy that has no use for the usual clichés. It’s also worth staying until after the credits, because there’s an additional four minute scene that was added after the film became a hit in the States. Recommended.