Directed By: Jared Hess
Starring: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries
Tag line: "It's Gonna Be a Dynamite Summer"
Trivia: A "Napoleon Dynamite" festival was held every year from 2004-08 in Preston, Idaho, the city where the movie was filmed
I first caught Napoleon Dynamite back in August of 2004, during its initial theatrical run. I remember it vividly; I had just seen Zach Braff’s Garden State, and, not being particularly tired, decided to check out another movie. Naturally, I’d heard of Napoleon Dynamite, which was something of an indie hit, but hadn’t seen the trailer or read any of its reviews, so I had no idea what to expect. It was a late-night showing, and there were only about a dozen or so of us in the theater (Interesting side note: I was in my mid-‘30s at the time, yet was still the oldest person there).
The movie started. I liked the opening credit sequence, in which the names of the film’s cast and crew were spelled out in ketchup on dinner plates, or plastered onto the label of a tube of Chapstick. Once the credits were over, the main character, teenager Napoleon Dynamite (played by John Heder) walks out the front door of his house and hops onto a school bus. He makes a beeline for the back seat, where another kid asks him what he’s going to do today. “Whatever I FEEL like I want to do, GOSH!” is Napoleon’s curt reply. He then proceeds to grab a small toy, an action figure with a long string wrapped around it, out of his book bag. Making sure the driver isn’t watching, Napoleon holds one end of the string, and then tosses the figure out the window. It drags along the ground, skipping over stones and kicking up dust, as the bus continues on its journey.
That was the moment I realized Napoleon Dynamite was going to be one very strange motion picture. It also made me laugh. A lot.
Napoleon and his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), who spends hours talking with his on-line girlfriend in cyber chat rooms, live at home with their grandmother (Sandy Martin). While out with some friends one afternoon, Grandma accidentally breaks her coccyx, and has to spend a few days in the hospital. As a result, Napoleon's Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), a middle-aged former high-school quarterback who can’t let go of the past, moves in to watch over things. Hoping to raise enough money to buy a time machine (which he’ll use to travel back to 1982 so he can help his high school team with the championship game), Rico becomes a Tupperware salesman, and even talks Kip into helping him. Meanwhile, Napoleon (who’s something of an outcast) befriends a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez), and falls for Deb (Tina Majorino), a shy girl with her own photography business. Napoleon even convinces Pedro to run for class president against the obnoxious Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff), a cheerleader and one of the "popular" girls.
But this is just scratching the surface. In fact, some of the film’s funniest moments have nothing to do with the main story, like when a school bus pulls up in front of Napoleon’s house just in time to see the farmer across the street shoot his cow in the head; or when Kip (who, despite his slight frame, has aspirations of becoming a cage fighter) and Napoleon visit a martial arts fitness center run by the boisterous Rex (Diedrich Bader). Napoleon himself is also good for a few chuckles, spinning outrageous yarns designed to impress his classmates. In the locker room one afternoon, he tells Don (Trevor Snarr) and some others how he spent the summer in Alaska hunting wolverines. But of all the hilarious scenes, the one that cracked me up the most was when Napoleon and Kip tested Uncle Rico’s new time machine. Needless to say, it didn’t work.
Produced for about $400k, Napoleon Dynamite has a million dollars’ worth of laughs.