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This Napoleon Doesn’t Have Much Of A Complex

Last night, had to choose between waiting in a long line for Fahrenheit 9/11 or walking right into and sitting down for Napoleon Dynamite. I chose the latter.

Describing the film’s plot pretty much misses the point, but the setting is important — barren Western town, and a lot of action taking place at the high school that the film’s title character attends.

The movie is both resolutely normal — dealing with the well-trodden miseries of small-town and high school life, and what it means to be a geek in those milieus — and profoundly weird — though set in contemporary times (as elements like mobile phones and online dating attest), the sets, clothing, and music all come from the late 70s and early 80s, as if Preston, Idaho was stuck in time. And the character’s behaviors — playing tetherball, rollerblading while towed by a bike, having hunks of steak thrown in your face, taking “glamor shots”, etc. etc. — are just so… odd.

This is not a great movie. I’m not sure that it’s a good movie. But I enjoyed it, and laughed, and found myself surprised at some of the things I laughed at. The character of Napoleon Dynamite, as embodied by Jon Heder, is amazing — eyes perpetually half-closed, mouth-breathing, shock of red curly hair, a combination of abusiveness (“You’re a flippin’ idiot!”), insecurity (“I went hunting for wolverines”), loyalty (“I’d vote for you, Pedro”), and a can-do spirit (pop-locking to Jamiroquai). All adding up to a surprislngly endearing persona.

The various subplots (the uncle’s attempt at returning to his glory days, the tupperware sales, the chat room pay-off) weaken the film, but I suspect they’re there because they simply didn’t have a full movie’s worth of Dynamite material.

Should you go see it? I don’t know. If you’re around my age (31), and a child of too much pop culture, with a taste for the absurd and ironic, it’s definitely worth a look-see.

  1. That sounds like I felt after watching Dazed and Confused, a contrived nostalgia movie with no storyline and mostly bad acting. I found it quite compelling and hilarious in many ways. The dialogue is cheesy and some of the characters are caricatures, but that’s pretty close to how it was in a small-ish town around 1980. It rings true enough to evoke those lost memories of what it felt like to be a kid back then.

  2. I went to college not far from Preston, Idaho, and, although I haven’t been there in a few years, the town was indeed caught in some kind of time-warp.

    I haven’t heard the word “flippin'” in a long time. It’s the Utah/Idaho-Mormon equivalent of “freakin'” or “fargin'”. The other popular one is “fetchin'”. Once a friend got angry at me and called me a “fetchin’ fetcher!”

    I’m going to a free showing of the movie next week.

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