Napoleon Dynamite (2004) — Dictating our voting decisions ever since

“Vote for me, and all your wildest dreams will come true.”

PoolMan’s rating: I could use some dynamite, all right…

PoolMan’s review: I remember quite a while ago writing my review for Clerks and saying something to the effect that it was already such a low energy flick that I couldn’t understand why it was in black and white (turns out it was for the cheaper film stock, incidentally). Well let me tell you something. If Napoleon Dynamite had been in B&W, I probably would have looked for a nearby bridge to leap from. Napoleon makes Dante look a circus clown on speed.

Napoleon Dynamite is, for mysterious and strange reasons, one of the biggest flicks to come out of 2004. An instant cult sensation, the movie follows the exploits of the titular Napoleon as he makes his slack jawed way from day to day trying to survive his equally slack jawed family (consisting of 24/7 net surfer brother Kip, borderline crazy/obsessed with 1982 Uncle Rico, and sand dune riding granny) and a high school filled with all the requisite cheerleaders and geeks. He meets a new immigrant student by the name of Pedro, and they become friends (pretty much because each is the only person who will speak to the other) as he grooms Pedro to become class president, running against Hillary Duff’s sister.


At the same time, he become awkwardly romantically interested in Deb, an equally loserrific girl with an inexplicable love of ponytails on the side of her head and a poor knack for shooting glamour photography. When old granny breaks her coccyx riding dune buggies and ends up in hospital, Uncle Rico comes to stay with Kip and Napoleon, determined to eat as much steak as possible and sell knockoff Tupperware and breast enlargement herbs to housewives and teenaged girls. This all sounds very wacky and a hilarious up front, I’m sure, but in application, it’s dry as toast.


My brother has been after me for MONTHS to see this, and for a while I just couldn’t understand why. It’s DULL. It’s a 90-minute-long awkward moment. Characters stare at each other, speak in monotone (saying the oddest things) and generally just… exist. Napoleon wanders from scene to scene, barely registering as awake, insulting people, lying pathologically, and hissing through his teeth whenever things don’t his way. Which is always. I was constantly wishing for a return to Rex or LaFawnduh, if only to get a character with some energy on screen.


And yet… there’s potential. I think Napoleon Dynamite is kind of the cinematic equivalent of a Rorschach test. If you look at the ink spatter just the right way, it’ll remind you of something really funny. If you look at it another way, it’ll be a picture of your dog being hit by a bus. Depends on who you are. There were certainly hilarious moments… who knows, maybe one day I’ll watch it with my bro and it’ll be the greatest thing ever. But as it was, it was just 90 minutes of pregnant pauses and utterly bewildering characters. How can I put this politely… I think I was at a serious disadvantage by watching this movie stone cold sober.


I mention Clerks above because I can honestly see this as the next Clerks. It’s already started to become the latest slacker-worship film. The writing is admittedly quite funny; I laughed out loud quite a few times due to the surreal nature of the whole thing. But the quotes almost make me laugh more as they appear on paper than to hear them from the actors’ mouths. Still, I just went for lunch with a guy who’s seen it before, and we spent half the time quoting it back and forth to each other, and I have to admit, the energy that’s not in the presentation is there in the rehashing. There’s definitely some cult legs in this puppy. Call it an acquired taste, and give it a shot, but be careful… this is a strange one.


Justin’s rating: I drink 1/2% milk

Justin’s review: As anyone with half a brain knows, movie nerds have as little in common with real, every day nerds as a movie cop has to do with your average traffic ticket puncher. A movie nerd makes sense in their nerdery; a real nerd often makes little or no sense to anyone but him (or her). Movie nerds tend to have just one defining trait (see Revenge of the Nerds); real nerds are coated in a rich slime of multi-layered weirdness.

It goes without saying that if Hollywood had the half brain I suggested (the extra room in their heads could be used for cupcake storage), then they’d realize that they’ve not only done nerds a great injustice, but missed out on a huge wealth of odd material to riff on. Happily, someone managed to slip past the Imperial blockade to deliver the secret plans to one of the best nerd movies ever: Napoleon Dynamite.

It really bothered me that this movie snuck in under my radar, but I suppose that’s the definition of a sleeper hit. No one I talked to in advance quite knew what this film was about, but the rumors, the whispers, the testimonials from Napoleonites all said one thing: This is one funny-as-heck movie, and you have to see it. So I did, along with 10 of my youth group students. We all encountered the same thing, a theater full of people who kept laughing incredulously while throwing their hands up at the weirdness of it all. Understand me now — this is not your typical comedy. The pacing is more reminiscent of indie flicks, with an atypical plot progression, long silences and little music, and a disjointed story that doesn’t seem to be about much. At first.

Our main character is Napoleon Dynamite, a guy you either was best friends with at school, or wouldn’t even consider sitting at the same table with at lunchtime. With a hearty poof of red hair, drooping eyelids, a mouth permanently set in a sneer/gape position, and the puffiest boots this side of the Potomac, Napoleon’s outward appearance does not inspire great confidence for a leader and a hero. That’s good, ’cause he’s neither of those things. Instead, he’s that ultra-geeky guy in school that you see doodling horrible drawings, thinking about magical creatures, expressing himself in short bursts of uncontrolled emotion, being pushed around by the jocks, and generally living inside of his own head.

What’s nearly impossible for me to describe to you is what makes Napoleon so funny. His oddity knows no bounds, yet the world he lives in seems almost to eclipse him in bizarre occurrences — his grandmother lands in the hospital due to a dirt bike accident, his 31-year-old brother Kip talks endlessly about his one internet romance, his yearning-for-past-days-of-football-glory uncle comes to live with him, and his best friend gives Silent Bob a run for his money in the quiet department.

For anyone who’s undergone adolescence, Napoleon’s gawkish behavior and his lack of being able to fit in with the world won’t be a foreign notion. As the movie crawls through his life, we witness scene after scene of Napoleon’s world, where nothing is normal and where cows get shot in the head in the presence of a busload of traumatized schoolkids. There are scenes where nothing much happens that’s funny, this is true; but there are many more scenes where you’ll be giggling out of astonishment, and plenty more parts where you’ll just let go and laugh your head off, because it doesn’t get better than this. This is exactly one of those movies where you come out of seeing it with friends and immediately begin telling each other what your favorite parts were, re-enacting scenes, and trying to mimic Napoleon’s classic catchphrases (my favorite is his exasperated “GOSH!”).

Although it’s not a slick, high-budget production with any big name stars (save for a cameo by Deidrich Bacher of “The Drew Carey Show”), Napoleon Dynamite triumphs far above most films because it runs, full-tilt, down the path less traveled. For me, the film was summed up perfectly in a small moment at a dance, where an afro’d Napoleon, his best friend wearing a wig, and his friend’s date who keeps her ponytail sprouting out the side of her head all just stand there, watching everyone else dance. The irony in the scene is that many people will think that the people dancing comfortably on the dance floor are the lucky ones, the better ones. But we know, having followed these nerds around, that their stillness is not a sad lack of acceptance by the normal world, but instead a joyful stand for all things odd and unique.

Didja notice?

  • Wow… that’s a lot of steak.
  • How come Kip doesn’t bowl for his spare?
  • Crystals ARE essential to time travel.
  • Tetherball: sport of kings.
  • When we first see the time machine, it’s set for 1982. Guess who was using it.
  • Nice wig on Pedro. Very medieval.
  • Tater tots are, admittedly, very tasty. Don’t know if they’re pocket snacks, per se…
  • Between this and Office Space, Diedrich Bader’s certainly getting the “weird white dummy” act down pat!
  • The High/Low dial on the time machine.
  • Bikes to the nuts HURT.
  • Watch out for Pedro’s brothers! I love the little head shake he gives the bike thief.
  • Mmm… bleach-laced milk.

One comment

  1. The first time I saw this, my reaction was “Well, this is what happens when people set out to make a film which will offend nobody at all.” It has grown on me since.

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