Sunday, February 20, 2022

Napoleon Dynamite

Movie Name:
Napoleon Dynamite
Year of Release: 2004
Director: Jared Hess
Starring: Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino, Diedrich Bader, Sandy Martin, Haylie Duff, Trevor Snarr, Shondrella Avery, Bracken Johnson, Carmen Brady, Ellen Dubin, Brian Petersen
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review:
"Napoleon Dynamite" premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, and went on to become one of the year's success stories, both commercially and critically (the film which had a low budget of $400k, went on to make over $40million at the box office). The film, which takes place in Preston, Idaho, focuses its narrative on Napoleon, a 16 year old high school student. Napoleon lives with his grandmother and older brother Kip, and mostly stays to himself. When his grandmother suffers an accident, his uncle Rico shows up, in order to look after him and Kip, much to Napoleon's annoyance. Rico who always dreamed of NFL stardom, is constantly trying to make some money through some wild schemes, and currently lives in his campervan. Napoleon eventually makes two good friends in school, the shy but artistic Deb, who runs various small businesses, including a photography studio, and Pedro, a transfer student from Juarez, Mexico. After the debacle of the high school dance, where Napoleon ends up going with a girl who doesn't care for him at all, things take an interesting turn when Pedro decides to run for class president, pitting him against the popular cheerleader, Summer Wheatley. Napoleon decides to help his friend with all his ingenuity and artistry. 
Jared Hess and Jon Heder originally worked together on the short feature "Peluca", about a nerdy high school student named Seth, which in a way informed what "Napoleon Dynamite" eventually became. What has remained an indelible source of amazement and entertainment, is how cleverly the film juggles the characters that it depicts, even if they are very broadly defined. Jared Hess weaves and constructs a universe that is somewhat anachronistic, where one doesn't really know if the film is taking place in the 80s/90s or 2000s, though there are elements from all those time periods, combined with a retro style that also makes it very unique (and hard to place). What is also so refreshing about this film, is the way the director plays with the typical high school clichés and personas, subverting them in small details, while still maintaining some of the aspects which make them so recognizable (the jock, the popular cheerleader, the intellectual nerdy girl, and the list goes on). Also from a stylistic perspective it's a film that from its pacing (editing), production design and cinematography, really transports its audience to an almost different universe, very much one that is the vision of its director (a sort of low fi retro inducing aesthetic). The cast is uniformly solid, with the underrated Jon Heder creating an iconic central character, with wonderful support from Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Jon Gries and Tina Majorino. A film always worth revisiting.