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Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Art House & International and Comedy movie directed by Jared Hess

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Explosions of Laughter in Napoleon Dynamite

  • Nov 10, 2005
  • by
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 almost uplifting... in an unusual sort of way.

Unlike most movies set at high schools, Napoleon Dynamite has a refreshing lack of mean-spiritedness and preaching. Sure, there are good guys and bad guys, but you almost can’t fault the bullies for shoving Napoleon against a locker. The kid keeps Tater Tots in his pockets, for gosh sake!

Even the in-crowd kids at school like Summer (Haylie “Hillary’s sister” Duff) and Trisha (Emily Kennard) aren’t that mean, so Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t deserve to be compared to Revenge of the Nerds. I mean, you and I wouldn’t want to date Napoleon or Pedro either.

Napoleon (Jon Heder) is a nerd but not in the positive sense. He’s not going to invent any new technologies like Bill Gates or solve any complex equations. He’s simply socially retarded. Napoleon wears snow boots, tight jeans, and thick glasses, and his hair looks like the toupĂ©e that my J.V. softball coach sported.

Fortunately for Napoleon, he finds a partner in apathy and alienation in Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez), Preston High’s sole Hispanic student and the only guy in school who can grow a mustache. Pedro, wearing a string tie and cowboy boots, looks just as out of place as Napoleon does, but he has ambition, asking out the most popular girl in school and running for class president. Rounding out their group of friends is Deb (Tina Majorino), who works in a homemade Glamor Shots studio and suffers from a lack of self-esteem. Napoleon's opening line to Deb in the cafeteria is, “I see you’re drinking 1% milk. Is that because you think you’re fat? Because you’re not. You could probably be drinking whole milk.”

Napoleon suffers from the passive sort of anger that affects the powerless. He alternates between staring numbly into space and verbally taking out his frustrations on his brother, his uncle, and their pet alpaca. Napoleon's affect, a constantly blank expression, got on my nerves a bit as did his habit of talking with his eyes closed and his bottom lip hanging down. Napoleon may lose his temper a few times, but he never swears, even when his uncle throws a steak at his head, and he quickly retreats back into his nerd coma. “Gosh!”, “freakin,’” “heck,” and “butt-load” take the place of stronger words in Napoleon's innocent vocabulary.

Kip (Aaron Ruell), Napoleon's older brother, spends all his time chatting to his online girlfriend LaFawnduh. While Kip and Napoleon are both entertaining characters, I thought Hess should have made them a bit more different from each other. Both Dynamite brothers are expressionless and clueless.

When their caretaker grandmother (Sandy Martin) is injured in a dune buggy accident, Uncle Rico (John Gries) steps in to take care of the boys. His presence is hardly necessary since Kip is over 30, and Rico ends up further aggravating poor Napoleon. Rico is possibly the most delusional and pathetic character of all. He longs to travel back in time to 1982 to replay the state football championship game and makes countless videotapes of himself throwing footballs. Unlike Kip and Napoleon, Rico is assertive and makes a decent living as a door-to-door salesman.

It’s difficult to tell in which era Napoleon Dynamite is supposed to take place. The clothing, hairstyles, and music seem decidedly early 1980s most of the time, but characters use the Internet and dance to the Backstreet Boys at others. I found this clash of decades somewhat distracting. It would have been one thing if Napoleon and his dysfunctional family had been the only ones that seemed stuck in a different time, but several girls at the school dance seemed to be sporting '80s dresses, and one even has crimped hair.

While the script is clever and very quotable, a good deal of the humor in Napoleon Dynamite is visual with Napoleon's dancing being a highlight.

Napoleon Dynamite is a tad slow-moving and doesn’t have much of a plot, but its unusual characters and scenarios make it head and shoulders above the other drivel that’s out there.


Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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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 . 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 …
review by . December 31, 2004
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. …
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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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