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I've heard a lot of critics giving NAPOLEON DYNAMITE a hard time, but those people need to lighten up. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a good movie. It's a good movie for many reasons, but the main reason why the film rules so much is because it takes place in Idaho.
Yes, you read that right.
Idaho is one of those mythical places whose existence is questionable. Much like New Hampshire, I have never met a single person who has ever been to Idaho. I hear there are a lot of potatoes in Idaho, but potatoes can come from anywhere. Idaho may very well be a myth, a fabrication by the U.S. Government to create artificial electoral votes or some nonsense. I mean, look at a list of alleged people to come from Idaho. Famous Idahoans include grocery chain founder Joe Albertson, industrialist J.R. Simplot, political leader Robert E. Smylie, and skier Picabo Street. How many of those people have you ever heard of? Yeah, exactly what I thought.
And besides that, how many movies can you think of that take place in Idaho? Off the top of my head, I can only think of a couple, and only because they have the alleged state's name somewhere in their titles. There's of course the 1991 Gus van Sant update of Shakespeare's Henry IV MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, which incorporates elements such as man-love, inbreeding, and narcolepsy. And then there's an indie flick from 1999, TWIN FALLS IDAHO, a dramatic love story that involves conjoined twins. Both of these films are pretty strange on the surface, which leads me to believe that if there indeed is actually an Idaho, that it's a pretty fucked-up place.
Further proof of that idea is presented in the little indie film that's catching on all over the country (maybe even Idaho) this summer, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. If life in Idaho is as weird as films like the aforementioned have presented it, then NAPOLEON DYNAMITE only puts an exclamation mark on the whole thing. This movie tells a story, or more accurately, doesn't really tell a story at all, about a guy who shares a name with the title of the film. No explanation is ever given for this guy having such an odd name, and it's actually kind of ironic because the historic Napoleon was a really short guy even though the guy in the movie is pretty tall. Napoleon is a weird guy. He's what you and I would refer to as a nerd. He lives with his grandmother and his brother Kip, who's even weirder than he is. Kip is at least 30 years old, but wears braces. He seems gay, but brags about talking to hot chicks in internet chatrooms. He's skinny as a rail, but has dreams of becoming a cage fighter. next to Kip, Napoleon seems like a normal guy.
Except that he's not. At the beginning of the movie, Napoleon has no friends. He doesn't care, though, because has claims to have superior skills fighting with a bo staff and thinks he's the best artist in the world. But along the way, he finds a buddy in a new hispanic student named Pedro and a gal-pal in a glamour shots photographer named Deb. Meanwhile, his grandmother breaks her tailbone in a four-wheeling accident while on vacation, so his unle Rico comes in to babysit. All grandma is really concerned with is that her pet llama Tina gets fed, and all Rico is concerned with is going back to his glory days, when he was playing football back in 1982. Rico spends most of his free time videotaping himself hurling footballs outside of his camper van home.
There's really not much of a story to speak of in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, because it's mainly just a few weeks in the life of these weird ass people and the weird ass situations that they put themselves into. There really aren't even many 'jokes' in the movie, at least not in the traditional sense. I found myself laughing a lot at the movie, even though I wasn't really sure why I was laughing. The character of Napoleon is played so realistically that you almost have to believe this weirdo exists, despite the fact that you've never met anyone quite as odd as him.
Jon Heder plays the part of Napoleon with half-closed eyes, a mass of untamed red hair, and a mouth hung open to the point where he resembles a real-live fusion of Beavis and Butt-head. His costar, Tina Majorino (that little girl from CORRINA, CORRINA and ANDRE and WATERWORLD almost all grown up) plays Deb as a sweet, shy foil for him. Jon Gries pulls off Unle Rico almost like he's DAZED AND CONFUSED's Wooderson plus fifteen years. The fact that he orders a time machine from the Internet and immediately sets it to 1982 is brilliant. Diedrich "Hey Peter Man!" Bader has a small and hysterical role as a martial arts instructor named Rex, who teaches "Rex Kwon Do" at his dojo in town.
There's also a very subtly interesting element in the movie: mustaches. Pedro wears one and can grow it in a couple of days, which makes Napoleon a bit envious. Uncle Rico wears one as a throwback to his glory years, where he just can't stop emulating Burt Reynolds from THE LONGEST YARD (yeah, I know that Burt didn't sport a mustache in that film, but he has for the rest of his life, so it's a fair comparison.) Kip wears a pencil-thin John-Waters-esque bit of hair on his lip, further clouding his sexuality. And Rex wears one to show how badass he can be.
The mustaches help to obscure the time period in which the movie takes place. Yes, this takes place in modern day times, as evidenced by certain musical selections and cars. The popular kids at school seem to be the only ones who have any idea of what is remotely fashionable, though. Everyone else seems stuck in one of the previous three decades.
One of the criticisms I've read about the film is the lack of redeeming qualities in the main character. The film is often compared to Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE and Todd Solondz's WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE, but there's nothing really to compare other than the basic idea that these are all movies about nerds. But there's a huge difference in the character of Napoleon and the characters of Max Fischer and Dawn Weiner: Those previous characters seek acceptance from their peers, while Napoleon is perfectly content without it. Max constructs elaborate stage productions and has ambitions to better his school and lies about his background to win friends and influence people. Dawn is kind of lost in her own little world but wants nothing more than to impress her brother's bandmates and is even willing to go through with a rape in order to get attention from others. But Napoleon is content to draw pictures of magical ligers play tetherball by himself. He never goes out of his way to impress others, with one rare exception (Napoleon draws a picture of a popular girl in order to earn a date to the school dance, but only at the urging of Pedro.) Even when he pulls his big redeeming moment at the end of the film, he does it not to make people take notice of him, but rather to help his friend Pedro in his quest to win the student council Presidency. Afterward, he still plays tetherball by his lonesome, at least until Deb joins him.
The film is admittedly weak in a few areas. Some of the minor storylines seem to serve no purpose at all and often fall flat. Kip has met an internet babe named LaFawnduh, who is taller than he is, probably weighs twice as much as him, and as the stereotypical name might imply, is a ghetto-fabulous black woman right out of an episode of The Ricki Lake Show. She gives Kip a taste of 'culture', as he starts dressing in urban fashions and using street slang. The whole storyline is ridiculously contrived, and serves no purpose other than to earn the film some accusations of racism. The fact that Pedro has two 'cousins' who ride around in a low-rider convertible and try to muscle anyone who harasses their kin only helps fuel their argument. Yeah, there are some pretty blatant stereotypes presented here, but I wouldn't say that any of them are designed to be 'racist'. If anything, I think the design was to show how much more bizarre such stereotypes would look against such a plain white-bread backdrop. But still, both elements miss their mark.
But despite its flaws, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE is a fun little movie for anyone who can remove the proverbial stick from their ass for an hour and a half and just enjoy the antics on screen. Yeah, a lot of critics are ripping this film apart, but that's because they're putting on the guise of a critic. In reality, anyone can enjoy NAPOLEON DYNAMITE if they want to. Yes, even people from this supposed Idaho.
Want a second opinion of this film? Take a look at theJK's review over at Living Corpse dot com!
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