Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is a bit of a nerd. He lives on a remote farm with his Grandma (Sandy Martin) and uncool older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) who loves to chat to 'babes' in on-line chat-rooms. Life at Preston High is pretty uneventful, but things at home change when Grandma has an accident and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), a loser who dreams of living in the 80s moves in. Napoleon's only friend is Pedro (Efren Ramirez), the new kid at school, who dreams of becoming class president. Napoleon is trying to pluck up the courage to ask Deb (Tina Majorino) to the school dance, but Pedro beats him to it.
Review by Louise Keller:
The characters are all weird and nothing much happens in Napoleon Dynamite, yet this droll and understated geek-comedy zings with truth, as a high-school loser sets about to turn his life around. His name might be Dynamite, but Napoleon is the epitome of a geek. He's awkward, anti-social and has a habit of keeping his eyes to the floor. It almost looks as though his eyes are closed when he talks, his mop of unfashionable auburn curls perched in unruly fashion above his sullen mouth and steely glasses. He has no social skills whatsoever, but prides himself on being able to draw a liger - a mix of a lion and tiger. Jon Heder embraces his character with such voracity, that it is impossible to know where the actor starts and the character finishes.
Napoleon Dynamite is the first feature film by 24 year old Jared Hess. The film is based on his short Peluca, which was inspired by his own experiences as an outsider living in a small town. Co-written with his wife Jerusha Hess, Hess imbues a solid sense of place as we meet these unlikely characters that live in the middle of nowhere. Just as in real life, they all take their lives so seriously (don't we all?), and their interaction is deliciously clumsy. Anyone who has ever felt awkward will revel in the unabashed awkwardness of the dialogue. Napoleon's notion of a pick-up line is 'I see you're drinking 1% fat; is that because you think you're fat?'
The comedy in Napoleon Dynamite comes from incongruous situations, unexpected responses and characters that are all as weird as each other. There's Jon Gries' Uncle Rico, who wallows in his memories of how great life was in 1982, and buys a time-travel machine on the internet. Napoleon's older brother Kip is a pasty-faced, scrawny no-hoper who chats up chat-room babes all day long. He believes he and girlfriend La Fawnduh must be serious about each other, because even though they have never met, they chat everyday online for two hours. (His transformation from puny weakling to hip bandana-toting cool dude is hilarious.) Pedro (Efren Ramirez) has a self-image problem, but figures he is good at something: he can grow a moustache in two days flat. Deb (Tina Majorino) is a shy young thing who aspires to be a photographer, while Diedrich Bader's Rex Kwon Do is a larger than life martial arts instructor whose track pants have one leg with stars and the other stripes. I love Grandma's pet llama Tina, and the expression on this extraordinary creature's black and white face as Napoleon flings spoonfuls of feed over the wire fence is priceless.
Napoleon is not a hero in the traditional sense. The changes he makes to himself and the people around him are not world shattering, but relative. And because they are relative, they ring true, and we can relate to and keep our interest in this assorted bunch of misfits. This is an original and subtle film that mostly holds for its 86 minute duration. Napoleon Dynamite will not revolutionise the world, but you won't forget him in a hurry. It's amusing and tragic, yet retains an undeniable sweetness. After all, comedy and tragedy together delivers the biggest impact.
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NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (PG)
CAST: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff, Sandy Martin
PRODUCER: Jeremy Coon, Sean Covel, Chris Wyatt
DIRECTOR: Jared Hess
SCRIPT: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Munn Powell
EDITOR: Jeremy Coon
MUSIC: John Swihart
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cory Lorenzen
RUNNING TIME: 86 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 2004
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