Napoleon Dynamite (USA; 86 min.)

directed by: Jared Hess
starring: Jon Heder; Efren Ramirez; Jon Gries; Aaron Ruell
Napoleon Dynamite

Barbara says: "Michael was right about this being a feel good movie. There was no deep thought involved. No cliches or hidden meanings just a comedy that made you laugh out loud.

"A good movie to see if you have gad a bad day. 3.5 cats"

Bruce says: "NAPOPEON DYNAMITE is one of those films where one can just sit back and enjoy what is flying by on the screen. Starting with the credits which are served to us as meals with the pertinent information written on food using sauces and condiments, one can easily rest assured a good time is but seconds away. While not particularly thought-provoking, this film is immensely enjoyable as much for the memories and comparisons it evokes as for its own originality. In the first few scenes I was transported back to WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, another story of alienated youth albeit more of a black comedy than the light-hearted NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Then ELECTION came to mind, visions of Reese Witherspoon deliciously plotting her presidential victory at the expense of everyone in her path. Finally, PUMP UP THE VOLUME came into thought. Triumph of the underdog.

"Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is the definitive nerd, a curly haired youth who wears huge glasses and speaks with his eyes closed most of the time. His favorite words are adjectives such as 'sweet' and 'delicious' which he delivers with a self-conscious yet casual air. Napoleon longs for good personal skills such as computer hacking and bow hunting. He is the only boy in the Happy Hands Club, a group that signs to music. Unfortunately Napoleon’s nerdiness is not good enough to outdo his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), an unemployed 31 year old who wears braces and retro sixties glasses as he sits in front of his computer. Kip’s idea of a hot time is getting ready for a chat room date. Napoleon is still in high school. Jocks slam Napoleon into lockers for laughs. Napoleon doesn’t fight back or even think of revenge. Instead he jumps at the chance to befriend Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a Mexican student with a lazy left eye who has just transferred to the Preston, Idaho High School. He helps Pedro write love notes and run for class president against Summer (Haylie Duff), seemingly the most popular girl in the school. Pedro and Napoleon are active in Future Farmers of America although neither lives on a farm.

"Kip and Napoleon live with their grandmother in a 50’s ranch with faux wood paneling and a wall phone that is way too high up on the wall. When grandma slips away for a day or two for a clandestine dune biking date, their Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) is sent to baby sit the duo. Uncle Rico spends most of his time videotaping his football passes and longing to back to 1982 so he could get into the championship game and win the trophy for the high school. Rico is not one to sit still for long and soon he involves Kip in get-rich-quick schemes. In no time, Rico’s schemes become intertwined in Napoleon’s social life. Then La Fawnduh, one of Kip’s chat room soul mates, turns up on their doorstep in Preston after traveling from Detroit by bus. Life is never dull in Preston.

"Jared Hess, in his first feature directorial effort, proves that he is one of the more innovative young filmmakers around. He and Zach Braff, director of GARDEN STATE, would make good bookends as they are quite a match. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, made for an estimated $400,000, has never played in as many as 1,000 screens simultaneously nationwide but has grossed well over $20 million. Quite an achievement. 4 cats"

Marilyn responds: "The success of this movie puzzles me and I can only conclude it is an age thing meaning I am just the wrong age to appreciate and relate to the film. The only part of your review I can agree with is the beginning of a sentence, 'while not particularly thought-provoking,' but then I didn't much like the other films you compared it to although WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE was really well done. One word comes to mind when I think about this movie....contrived. Did any of you who are closer in age to the character really have his experiences and his reaction to them and top it off with the adults in his life.....please....someone made this up and thought it was funny. (and it probably was to them) It reminds me of a bunch of silly teenage girls who say something that means nothing but they cannot stop laughing. There were people in the theater laughing so people are enjoying the film. I did not. If you want thought-provoking go see HERO three times."

Bruce responds: "Well, age had nothing to do with my liking NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. I just sat back and enjoyed myself as though I were watching a cartoon. I think caricature is the slot for this film, at least that's where I would put it. For me contrived is not always pejorative - unless it is poorly done and not very much fun."

Chris says: "At first, I feared this was going to be quite the unbearably quirky and stilted film, but a really sweet, endearing (and yes, hilarious) story emerges. I kept thinking this is the kind of film John Waters would've made had he grown up in small town Idaho, came of age in the '80s, and was fascinated by a far less sordid shade of American trash culture. The only thing it really has in common with RUSHMORE is an affection for misfits--whereas Wes Anderson's film merely featured a score by Mark Mothersbaugh, this one is much, much more Devo. As the title character, Jon Heder gets my vote for one of the most original and eventually winning lead performances I've seen in a long time. Great John Hughes-influenced soundtrack, too. 4 cats."
Diane says: "I agree: very enjoyable and the lead actor was just great. What talent he
exhibited when he performed with the signing group! I hesitate to give it too many cats, since the movie moguls are pushing it so (but my thanks to them for the free screening). I can't believe they are promoting 'enter a special drawing after you see it three times!'

"Saw it with my friend who hails from a little town in Idaho, who confirms that skits are indeed required for school election candidates. Oh, it also had the best opening credits I've seen! Maybe for that reason I will have to break down and give its due: 4 cats"

Janet says: "The writing is on the wall, and all the members who went for THE STATION AGENT last year will vote for this year's episodic tale of three misfits who find one another in a wide-open landscape. The perfs were very good (I particularly enjoyed Kip's voice), but I was bored at times by the slow, ramshackle storytelling. A couple of the romantic story lines are undeveloped, too. Still, in the middle of the film I had an epiphany: the draw is that many of the major characters (such as Pedro, Kip, and LaFawnduh) are being played by members of the opposite sex! It's a sly little drag king/queen show! So this was the point of the whole thing---what a great idea! Once I saw the credits, however, it seemed not to be the case.

"Why does every movie about high school have to have an artificially climactic contest scene in which the main character shows the whole school what he's got in him? Why is a dance called a skit? And did the eerily existential dance by Napoleon remind anyone else of the dance at the end of BEAU TRAVAIL?

"Remember the Weinstein brothers' cynical bid to get an Oscar by creating that non-foreign foreign film CHOCOLAT? This movie makes me think that some calculating filmmakers have idenitified 'the Chlotrudis formula' and are assembling the ingredients in a cynical manner to have their shot at our flat cat. I don't want to let that happen. 3 1/2 cats"

Carolyn responds: "If I understand correctly, I have to disagree. I saw THE STATION AGENT last year and thought it was a beautiful story, but did not feel at all the same about NAPOLEON DYNAMITE."

Bob responds: "I saw NAPOLEON DYNAMITE last night, and I have to agree with Carolyn. THE STATION AGENT was (for lack of a better term) a feel-good movie that was also intelligent, well-written, and well-acted. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, while it’s a lot of fun (mouth breathers of the world unite!), is really more of an indie-fied version of REVENGE OF THE NERDS.

"That’s not to say that I wouldn’t recommend it to people (I just did when my housemate asked me a few minutes ago), but I’m not going to be nominating it for anything, and I doubt I’ll see it again unless it shows up on cable."

Michael responds: "Well, I can see what Janet was saying by drawing parallels to the three misfits befriending one another in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and THE STATION AGENT, but I don't think she was necessarily saying they were similar. However, I agree with Bob that I don't think the noms are going to flow for NAPOLEONS. As I said before, it's one of the "Feel good movies of the year" for me, but if anything gets a nod from me, it will probably be lead actor John Heder, whose performance (and yes, BEAU TRAVAIL-like dance) really made the film for me. Tina Majorino's Deb is pretty cool too.

"I find it interesting that both NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and SAVED! were released around the same time and are both performing pretty well. While they have different stories and messages, they both follow a pretty conventional teen movie approach, with NAPOLEON adding the extra layer of the triumphant geeks. Could the teen movie be the next film to make a comeback? (And I don't mean the gross-out teen genre as AMERICAN PIE, but the John Hughesesque teen film like PRETTY IN PINK.)"

Michael says: "The feel good movie of the year! A bold proclamation for this Sundance-celebrated comedy, but NAPOLEON DYNAMITE had me laughing until my eyes watered, and it was sweet and uplifting without being sentimental and cloying. What a surprise! Napoleon is a high school misfit who lives in Preston, Idaho with his grandmother and
his 31-year-old brother (who, if possible, is even more of a nerd than Napoleon!) When his grandmother is injured in a dune buggy accident, Napoleon's Uncle Rico, perpetually longing for his glory days of 1982, moves in to watch the boys, much to Napoleon's dismay. When his new friend and fellow high school outcast Pedro decides to run for class president against popular cheerleader Summer, Napoleon finds a purpose and hones his skills for the challenge against insurmmountable odds.

"Set in present-day, but with rural-Idaho making a good stand-in for high school 20 years ago, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a must-see for anyone who ever felt like an outsider. With quirky, laugh-out-loud humor, yet a good, sweet heart, I was most impressed by John Heder, the young actor who plays Napoleon with such vigor and determination. Barely opening his eyes behind thick, coke-bottle glasses, Heder conveys his geekiness with a matter-of-factness that is heart-breaking while it is hysterical. When Napoleon finally unleashes his special skill (which I won't reveal for fear of spoiling the joy) Heder dives in with a physicality that is astounding.

"Of course there is a romance as well, and Deb, a fellow student and glamour-shot photographer is comsummately adorable. One of the things I loved about this teen movie was that it's not about the misfits trying to fit in, it's just about the misfits living their lives. Napoleon doesn't fall in love with a popular girl for whom he must appear cool, he falls in love with a fellow misfit, and their courtship is adorable.

"Do I relate a bit much to sweet Napoleon? I'm not sure, but this film was a heckuva lot of fun! It opens in June. 4 cats"