A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Napoleon Dynamite earned Jared Hess inexplicable comparisons to Wes Anderson by virtue of the detail-oriented film being produced on a shoestring budget, except its soullessness puts it on par with the worst anti-humanist comedies of all time (Dumb and Dumberer comes immediately to mind). In a remote town in Idaho (circa the present, except everyone seemingly wants to return to 1982 for reasons unknown), a dim-witted, aesthetically-challenged loser named Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) spends much of his time feeding his pet llama, throwing produce at his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), fighting with his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), and condescending to the world at large, namely his Mexican best friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez). An elaborate non sequitur, Napoleon Dynamite traffics in one depth-less character after another and watches as they blindly engage in a spectacle of shallow bumblefuckery. Hess contents himself by throwing one random joke after another at the screen (a bully smashes the tater tots Napoleon keeps in his side pocket, the boys at the local chicken farm are served egg juice by the farmers that employ them, Pedro’s thugged-out cousins intimidate the honkys with their juiced-up vehicle, and so on). Naturally, all the audience can do is watch which ones manage to stick. (For me, just one: Napoleon’s idea of a come-on is, “I caught you a delicious bass.”) Hess doesn’t challenge stereotypes—instead, he wallows in them: His idea of nuance is afflicting the ostensibly straight Kip with an offensive lisp or subjecting the comatose Pedro to repeated racial attacks (in one of the film’s more insulting sequences, the high school principal questions the boy’s ability to speak English while Napoleon seems to confuse him for a cafeteria worker or a janitor). Napoleon learns to dance using a tape of D-Qwon’s Dance Moves (because black people can groove, get it?), the Internet-obsessed Kip falls in love with a black girl named LaFawnduh who drives in from Detroit (because that’s where they all live), and a white girl who runs against Pedro for high school president clinches her opening speech with the following: “Who really wants to eat chimichangas next year?” Because there’s nothing funnier than country bumpkins acting like idiots for 90 minutes straight, the one-joke Napoleon Dynamite happily offers itself to cynical audiences, some of whom have read the film’s breakdancing sequence as an act of compassion (as if Napoleon is in it for anyone but himself). To his credit, Hess seems to recognize how rotten to the core his film is, and as such his characters spend much of the time staring comatose at the fourth wall before flies begin to slowly gather around their faces.
- Jared Hess
- Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
- Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff, Ellen Dubin, Emily Kennard, Sandy Martin, Diedrich Bader
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