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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Art House & International and Comedy movie directed by Jared Hess

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  • Dec 31, 2004
  • by
Here's a review from a 41 year old man. I've read lots of reviews of this movie that absolutely trash it. And obviously, it's become quite a "cult" hit amongst a younger crowd. In fact, it was my 17 year old son who insisted my wife and I see it. And we immediately loved it, from the delightful opening credits to Napolean's first line "Whatever I want to! Gosh!!"

The critics who have trashed it frequently say that it makes fun of its characters...that it condescends to them. I'm surprised at that attitude. In so many movies, oh, let's cite "Revenge of the Nerds" as an architypical example, the "nerds" are losers who aren't really. They're just different from the jocks or the "beautiful people," but by the end, they've changed, become winners and made fools of the bad guys. Everyone learns a lesson.

The fact is, these movies are untruthful, however "uplifting" they may be. We all know that in life, there ARE "losers." People with not a whole lot to offer the world in general. Napolean and his family and friends ARE losers. And Napolean KNOWS it. He doesn't seem to dream of being accepted. His ambitions (to draw, to be a martial artist / bow staff wielder, etc.) are things he is deluded about, but he seems to know it.

The movie isn't about how Napolean rises from the lower depths to become some sort of hero. Essentially, we see him pull himself up by his own moonboot-straps, primarily to take a few steps into to a world where he connects with people. He's not about taking on society or arguing that he's "different but just as worthy", as the NERDS movies would.

When his brother Kip takes him to a Tae Kwon Do class, Napolean is inspired by the ridiculous owner's words, "Everyone needs a buddy, no more flying solo." He goes out and makes friends with the friendless Pedro, and says to him, "We're pretty much buddies now, right? So you've got my back and stuff, right?" Napolean just wants someone to have his back and vice-versa.

Later in the movie, Napolean shows his character when he gets Pedro's back by providing entertainment during the school elections. I won't say more, except to say that Napolean's bravery and reluctance are palpable in the hilarious and touching scene.

And what about his "enemies?" There is one jock who beats up on Napolean for no good reason, and this guy never really gets a comeuppance. This guy doesn't get any support from others at school,either, and we certainly know that this "jock" is a loser too.

Part of this comes from the fact that the movie is set in a small town in an "obscure" state (Idaho), that appears to offer few prospects to anyone. No one dreams of going to Hollywood or becoming a star or a computer whiz, doctor, etc. etc. There aren't any dreams. (Although, to Napolean and Pedro's credit, they seem to have quite a knack at agriculture...which may be what lays in their future; Deb is a natural entrepreneur.)

Napolean, basically, is a loser comfortable in his own skin, and beneath his sullenness, is...a sullen teenager. He's a pain in the neck sometimes, but through his modest strength of character, he makes a close friend, and takes tentative (and VERY sweetly convincing) steps towards a first romance. But only tentative...the final shot of him playing tether ball with his female friend tells us all we need to know about how ready he may or may not be for love.

Also, this is a rare movie that shows people who don't have a lot of money. The lack of money is dealt with constantly (they can't afford martial arts lessons, an extra car, a new suit, etc.) This is very refreshing, because in most movies dealing with teens, most of the kids (winners and losers alike) aren't exactly hurting for money.

The movie is packed with indelible characters (each more self-deluded than the next) and gentle affirmations of how there is someone for everyone...even Napolean's more hapless brother Kip. It's also very funny (Napolean teaching himself to dance, the farmer shooting his cow, the llama, Uncle Rico's almost pathological desire to travel back in time, etc.)

I don't know why this movie connects to today's teens. I'm not a teen, afterall. But I sure see teens I know in Napolean. His bursts of "Idiot!" ring quite true. But I appreciate the quiet, unexpected heart of the movie, and I believe the filmmakers aren't poking fun at these characters...they are just staying true to who they are. I also appreciate that the film is PG rated and doesn't need to show teens all obsessed with sex, drugs, inappropriate music, etc. They probably are, but the filmmakers aren't interested in examining the usual...they're shedding a little light in humerous corners we don't usually look.

This is a funny and touching film. Should appeal to any teen or parent of a teen anywhere.

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More Napoleon Dynamite (2004 movie) reviews
Quick Tip by . October 17, 2009
As a complete movie, I didn't find it necessarily compelling, but the characters create some memorable (and imitate-able) scenes.
review by . November 14, 2008
Napoleon Dynamite
If you are looking for overt, laugh aloud humor, then you will be disappointed in Napoleon Dynamite. Any real verbal or visual humor is very deadpan and subtle, and hard to miss if you are seeking out a belly laugh.     The funniest part of the entire movie is the characters themselves, who go beyond nerd into the land of dweebs so inept that they are the ones that pass beyond the notice of society. They are not handsome or beautiful, they are not smart, they have no talents, …
review by . December 30, 2008
A lot of people like Napoleon Dynamite and I understand why if your sense of humor is similar to what the movie was aiming for. But for me, I have a far more sarcastic sense of humor so this film just didn't cut it.    However, there was one scene that I found mildly entertaining. It was where the farmer puts down the cow in front of a school bus full of children. The irony is just too great (killing a cow to put it out of its "misery" but inadvertently traumatizing dozens of …
review by . February 08, 2006
In the wake of independent pictures and original films, this seems to be one of the prized selections in those categories. Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing what I consider one of the funniest and most interesting film I've seen in awhile.    Dynamite is one weird kid. He has the most eccentric, odd, loser family in Idaho and he dons odd clothing, hairstyles, and participates in random, mundane activities. But, that's what makes him interesting, what makes the film interesting. …
review by . November 10, 2005
Pros: funny, unusual, soundtrack, characters     Cons: a few unrealistic moments, slow-moving, Napoleon's affect     The Bottom Line: "Want to play me?"     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Writer/director Jared Hess sets Napoleon Dynamite in his hometown of Preston, Idaho with a mixture of tenderness and mockery. I expected Napoleon Dynamite to be dark, disturbing, and somewhat depressing, but it’s …
review by . March 15, 2005
At some point in our lives, we've all been the geek. Some of us(like myself), have been the geek one too many times. This film lets us laugh at those who are geeks, those who beat up the geeks, and the snobby little popular girls who toy with the geeks.    The film is basically about a few days in the life of a not-so-likeable dork named Napoleon, and his more likeable friend, Pedro, as well as his chatroom-happy brother, Kip, and his uncle, Rico. They are all losers in one way …
review by . January 30, 2005
I did not watch Napoleon Dynamite until it came out on DVD. The first words out of Napoleon's mouth in response to a question about what he's going to do that day were, "I'll do whatever I want to do. Gosh!" Then he proceeds to throw an action figure out the window of the school bus tied to a piece of string. My brothers-in-law who had already seen the movie repeated the line and then all started laughing hysterically when he threw the GI Joe out the window. I said to myself, "This is stupid." My …
review by . January 14, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Chapped Stick, Chapped Lips, and things like Tetherball.    As an independant film maker, I walk into any such film with an open mind, and wish them the best of luck. This time, it was all I could do to contain myself. Now everyone I know has heard about Napoleon Dynamite.    There are many incredible things about the picture. First, its a simple story without any extravagances. No melodramatic overtones, nor the cardboard cut-out characteristics, just a laid …
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Ranked #146
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this movie


Napoleon Dynamite is a 2004 film written by Jared and Jerusha Hess and directed by the former. The film, an American independent comedy, chronicles the adventures of Napoleon Dynamite, a character in the movie. After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2004, the film was later widely released in August of the same year and eventually grossed over $44 million, well over its filming budget of $400,000.

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Director: Jared Hess
Screen Writer: Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
DVD Release Date: December 21, 2004
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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