By: Henry J. Fromage (A Toast) –
When I first watched Napoleon Dynamite while ducking the summer heat in a near-empty theater, it was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and walking out I wasn’t even sure if I liked it or not. Later that year, after watching it or the second or third time, it had grown on me (and the rest of America, it seems) by leaps and bounds, and even watching it for the umpteenth time last week I discovered new little comic tics I hadn’t noticed before. Such is the power of Jared Hess, which also extended to the well-underrated Nacho Libre.
Once was plenty for Gentlemen Broncos, however
Napoleon Dynamite is about a bizarre young man trying to make friends, find love, and just survive high school… Damn, writing a plot synopsis of this is more difficult than I thought. It’s a comedy about some delightfully strange people. There.
Long after all of the hype, cult film praise, and even arguably the end of the careers of most involved (although I hope not), Napoleon Dynamite remains one of my favorite comedies ever. A healthy portion of the credit due for that can be given to director Jared Hess, who at first seems to be cribbing a little of Wes Anderson’s candy-colored tableau magic but then takes his film to an entirely different place.
It’s not entirely clear what time Napoleon Dynamite takes place in, as there are internet chatrooms, but all of the fashion and décor are bastard children of 70s and 80s kitsch.
Maybe that’s how they roll in Idaho.
This is an excellent choice, though, as it creates an offbeat setting for the film’s offbeat characters, and from John Heder’s brief star-making turn as Napoleon to the film’s ace supporting cast of familiar and new faces, the acting in the film serves its purpose beautifully. Hess takes these ingredients and stirs in a bevy of editing tricks and some surprisingly beautiful shot composition to produce a wholly unique, delectable comedy dish.
The final triumph of the film is the fact that no matter how odd these characters and their world are, the plot is wholly relatable. It nails the awkward, un-self-consciousness of teenagers, even the “popular” ones, and little things like Pedro getting rejected or Deb’s reaction to Uncle Rico’s breast enhancement pitch pack a sneaky emotional punch. It’s the small moments that elevate Napoleon Dynamite from a simply funny comedy to an eminently rewatchable one.
This wonderfully weird comedy has stood the test of time and popularity, and will always have a place in my list of favorite comedies.
Take a Drink: whenever Napoleon sighs or moans
Take a Drink: for every piece of “art” we see
Take a Drink: for every increasingly bizarre story Napoleon tells
Do a Shot: “Do the chickens have large talons?”
Do a Shot: Quesadilla! Tots! Liger! Tina!
Take a Drink: when it’s time to dance!
Take a Drink: Vote for Pedro
The candidate we all can agree on