Ever watch a movie in which you find yourself thinking, How in the world did this ever get made?, then you discover how glad you are that it was made? Napoleon Dynamite is such a movie. It was independently made by Jared and Jerusha Hess, but it was taken up by 20th Century Fox and MTV to distribute. Napoleon can only be described as a teen comedy for the average teen…well, maybe not the average teen, but at least there isn’t silicone Barbie dolls and pretty boys with perfect abs on every shot. There aren’t groups of kids wanting to get laid for the first time either. Yes, people, this is a movie you can actually take the kids to. Being an independent film, there are not any stars in this movie to draw you to see this movie. There is one hilarious appearance by Deitrich Bader of The Drew Carey Show fame as a martial arts instructor, but his role is very small.
The plot is a string of random events revolving around one teenager’s slightly abnormal life. Napoleon Dynamite is the name of the lead character (played by Jon Heder). Napoleon is a geek to the extreme as anyone can tell from the opening shot in the film. Napoleon walks out of the front door of his house, stands in the middle of the side walk and opens up his school binder. He is lanky with red, curly hair, with a t-shirt tucked neatly into his jeans. He wears snow boots –all the time. His glasses are like the bottoms of coke bottles, they are so thick that you can barely make out his sleepy eyes. His bottom lip curls just enough to give him the appearance of someone who has a permanent distain for life. To me, he was easily recognizable as a social outcast.
He then gets on the bus with all the elementary kids in the small town of Preston, Idaho. As he sits in the bus, a younger boy asks him, “What are you going to do today Napoleon?”
Napoleon responds in a frustrated voice, “Whatever I want to do! GOSH!”
Napoleon is constantly frustrated. Maybe it’s the fact that he constantly gets slammed into lockers, or that his grandma just left him for a week to go on a date with her boyfriend or that his 32 year old brother Kip, is jobless and spends all his days chatting to women on the internet. Both Napoleon and Kip live with their grandma. The movie doesn’t elaborate on how or why the are with their grandma, but it wouldn’t add to the plot at all anyway.
Kip (played by Aaron Ruell) is one of my favorite characters. He is a small, gentle looking man with a pencil mustache, square glasses and braces. He wears tube socks with loafers, shorts and a polo shirt. At one point in the film, Kip invites his online love to come to his hometown and meet him. At the bus station, Kip greets his “soul mate”, LaFawndah, a tall voluptuous, African-American female. She practically lifts Kip off his feet as she hugs him. It’s hilarious to see.
Another person enters Napoleon’s life as he answers the door at one point in the film and at the door is an unknown classmate, Deb (Tina Majorino of Corrina Corrina). Deb is an aspiring glamour shots photographer with a wardrobe that looks like she went crazy at Cyndi Lauper’s garage sale. Deb is trying to raise money for college and she tries to sell Napoleon a homemade key chain, but she gets so nervous that she suddenly bolts, leaving her stuff on Napoleon’s front porch.
At school, Napoleon finds another new friend in the quiet Mexican, Pedro Martinez. Pedro is new to the school, but he has big dreams, like becoming school president and taking the school’s most popular cheerleader to the dance. Napoleon sees Pedro as a ladies man with “all the sweet hook-ups” and maybe, probably his best friend. Both of them like Deb, the quiet girl who left crap on Napoleon’s front porch. One of my favorite lines in the movie is when Napoleon goes over to Deb in the school cafeteria after being inspired by Pedro to meet more girls. She is sitting all alone and Napoleon sees that she has a carton of 1% milk at by her, so he says, “I see your drinking 1%. Is that ‘cause you think you’re fat?” Deb gives him a strange look and keeps eating. “Because you’re not. You could drink whole if you wanted to.” Napoleon dryly states.
While all this is happening, things are stirring up at Napoleon’s home as well. After Napoleon’s grandma left him and Kip alone, she went dirt-biking in the sand dunes. There she took a nasty spill and broke her coccyx. The talented John Gries of The Rundown and numerous other films plays Uncle Rico, a slimy but harmless man who is still stuck in his high school days in ’82, who then rolls in to town. Uncle Rico claims that he is in town to take care of Napoleon and Kip, but Napoleon believes he is up to no good. Immediately, Rico sets up a plan for Kip and him to sell overpriced Tupperware to the naïve residents of Preston, Idaho. While, doing so Rico begins to ruin Napoleon’s life, by spreading rumors and intruding in Napoleon’s space. The last straw comes when Rico tries to sell breast enhancements to his classmates, further ruining Napoleon's already poor reputation. He begins to make war with Rico.
Meanwhile, Pedro and Napoleon work up a strategy to defeat their opponent for class president, Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff, Hillary Duff’s sister). They try and try to come up with some sort of plan to defeat her, but nothing works. The climax of the movie comes when Pedro and Summer face off at a school assembly. I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you it involves dancing.
There aren’t any big action sequences and the budget for the film is transparently low, but amidst all of that it continues to thrive and make you laugh. I thought this movie was so funny, I have seen it three times. It was kind of all over the place in terms of the plot and there were times in which the movie made no sense, but otherwise it was an awesome and hilarious movie. The characters are what make this movie so great and the fact that you won’t feel like you have to take a shower after watching it. Also, the fact that it has a PG rating makes it kid-friendly. I recommend it as a date, family, or hangin’-out-with-friends movie. If we continue to encourage films like this, maybe Hollywood will stand up and take notice of the small-time films and the ones that don’t have to be Rated R or PG-13 to be funny. In closing, this movie will have you laughing, and it might have to grow on you, but in the end, you’ll find that you can’t get enough of Dynamite.
P.S. Don't forget to stay after the credits. There's a surprise ending.
Cast & Crew
Director and Writer - Jared Hess
Writer/Costume Designer - Jerusha Hess
Producer and Editor - Jeremy Coon
Producer - Chris 'Doc' Wyatt
Producer - Sean C. Covel
Executive Producer and Casting Director - Jory Weitz
Director of Photgraphy - Munn Powell
Production Designer - Cory Lenzeen
Music - John Swihart
Napoleon Dynamite - Jon Heder
Uncle Rico - John Gries
Kip - Aaron Ruell
Pedro - Efren Ramirez
Deb - Tina Majorino
Rex Kwon Do - Diedrich Bader
Summer - Haylie Duff
Node your homework
Also: One of Elvis Costello
's many aliases. Jared Hess says he's a big fan of Elvis Costello and the name sprang from him.