For the life of me I cannot figure out why Napoleon Dynamite (2004) ever got to be as popular as it was, or still is, which is a scary thought. I did not see it in the theater when it came out because I recall thinking that it looked, to be blunt, stupid. But then it began getting far more attention than I thought it deserved given my feelings after seeing it. I did give it a fair shot, though. Back when it first came out on video, I remember sitting down with the girl I was dating at the time and watching it because we were curious. We had the same reaction: while there were a smattering of the briefest, lightest of chuckles, it was basically nothing. We sat through it and as the credits rolled, we turned to each other and said that it was dumb. I viewed it again last night and had the same feelings, as did the old man I live with now.
It is nearly impossible to describe the plot of Napoleon Dynamite because there is none. In order to have a plot, usually your characters need to have an arc. The title character (Jon Heder) is the same socially awkward high school teen at the beginning as he is at the end. What I will describe to you are the series daily activities that are filmed that can laughably called a story. There are a couple of events that receive attention. First is when his grandmother (Sandy Martin), who takes care of him and his equally geeky brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), is injured in an accident while motorcycling in the dunes. While she is in the hospital recuperating, their Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) arrives to watch them. He is a guy stuck in 1982, which I guess is supposed to be funny if it were not for the fact that he treats Napoleon awfully. When it becomes apparent that Napoleon has a crush on Deb Bradshaw (Tina Majorino), Uncle Rico tracks her down and hands her a flyer for breast enhancements, falsely suggesting that Napoleon wants this for her. There is no motivation for their dislike of each other, they just do not get along. The other aspect of Napoleon’s life that is focused on is his relationship with his friend Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez). Pedro is the new kid from Mexico, and him and Napoleon band together as fellow outcasts. Because Pedro has a little more real confidence, instead of Napoleon’s fake bravado that has him pathologically telling tales of his skills with a bo staff, he gives Napoleon advice on talking to girls. Pedro also decides to run for school president against the most popular girl in their class, Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff). This leads to what I suppose is the funniest moment in the film. We will call it the climax as well. As part of each candidate’s pitch to the school, they must also perform a skit. Pedro is not prepared. Enter Napoleon. Handing the sound guy a cassette tape, he strides onto the stage with his hands in his pockets and gives a dance routine that he had been working on for a while. For whatever reason, the entire school goes wild for this performance, and Pedro defeats Summer. After this, Uncle Rico is savagely beaten by Tae Kwon Do instructor Rex (Diedrich Bader), grandma comes home, and Kip leaves town with his girlfriend LaFawnduh Lucas (Shondrella Avery). The film closes with Napoleon playing tetherball with Deb, she seemingly forgiving him even though it should have clear that he would never have done as Uncle Rico said.
I mean, you go film your life for week and tell me you can come up with an hour and a half long movie like Napoleon Dynamite. I went to chess club last night, but do you think Hollywood is calling to do a feature length motion picture about my comings and goings? The answer is no. I am not suggesting that people’s lives lack interest. We all have to find a reason to get out of bed everyday. At the same time, that does not mean you can always string together a random sequence of events and call them a story. That is the film. When Kip and Uncle Rico purchase a specious time machine on the internet and it does not work? Random. When Napoleon and Pedro go to a dairy farm to rate the products? Random. One might argue that these scenes help to fill out the characters. However, you know basically everything you need to know about them from the moment they are first on-screen, and nor do they advance a plot. Because there is no growth for any of them, it is the equivalent of somebody repeating themselves over and over and over. Napoleon is a geek. Kip is a geek. Deb is a geek. Uncle Rico is stuck in the past. Napoleon is a geek. Kip is a geek. Deb is a geek. Uncle Rico is stuck in the past. Napoleon is a geek. Kip is a geek. Deb is a geek. Uncle Rico is stuck in the past. I would despise this movie for its repetitiveness if it were not for the fact that they (except for Uncle Rico) are bullied, which makes them sympathetic for me personally. Then again, I do not like to see bullying, and it is made worse by the fact that it played for laughs.
The only merit I can see in Napoleon Dynamite in any sense, Christian or otherwise, is the friendship between Napoleon and Pedro. I takes a divinely inspired courage, whether it is acknowledged or not, for a teenager to get on stage in front of all his peers and dance in that manner. The Bible talks about the value of such friends, and it is at least nice to see that they seem to value each other. This is not a reason to see the film, though. You can find the same themes in much better movies, ones that actually have a point.
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