Napoleon Dynamite Review

Jul 23, 2004 | 12:10pm EDT

We are first introduced to our bushy-haired redhead friend Napoleon (Jon Heder) in a vintage unicorn T-shirt dangling a superhero action figure out the window of his school bus. When his much younger friend asks "What are you going to do today Napoleon?" our protagonist's first words are marked with an attitude that is unmatched by anybody other than Napoleon himself "Whatever I feel like!" Napoleon and his chat room surfing brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) 31 with braces live with their biker grandma (Sandy Martin) until she's injured quad running at the dunes and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) comes to babysit. Dynamite becomes the campaign manager for the class presidency of his best friend a new Mexican student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez) handing out key chains made by expert friendship bracelet-maker Deb (Tina Majorino). Dynamite also wins over the likes of Trisha (Emily Kennard) with a personal drawing of her that took forever he winsomely says "to finish the shading on her upper lip"; wears a vintage suit to his school dance; and injures his scrotum with a time machine purchased on the Internet. If this proud geek wasn't being kicked during class and pushed into lockers after he could just as easily be considered the coolest dork in town.

Jon Heder masters the coolness of weird and the awkwardness of youth through his social reject Napoleon Dynamite. Heder certainly has the open-mouthed squinty-eyed spectacle-clad doofus down to a T. From breaking an excessive sweat after practicing dance moves in his room to throwing fruit at his Uncle Rico to showing a pent-up rage while dancing for Pedro's candidacy speech Heder does every little thing with a resentful anger that makes his performance unforgettable and oh so laughable. As dazzling as he is alone Heder's act benefits when complemented by his equally outrageous costars. Ruell does a notable job portraying the fragility of his character Kip perfectly displaying the transition from computer geek to ghetto superstar thanks to new girlfriend LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery). Gries is Uncle Rico--his constant nostalgic comments about his chance to "make State" in high school football in 1982 really start to get on your nerves. But Majorino takes the cake for the hilarity with which she depicts her character down to her hairstyles outfits jobs and hobbies. Her character Deb is eerily reminiscent of Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) from 1995's dork homage Welcome to the Dollhouse. One of the most attractive things about the movie is the organic love story that unfolds as Napoleon and Deb realize that they're in fact two peas in a pod.

Jared Hess directs Dynamite written by him and wife Jerusha. This movie is his baby as his only other directing and production credits include Peluca 2003's 9-minute short film focused on the character of Napoleon Dynamite then dubbed Seth. Without special effects or an expensive budget Dynamite will blow you away with its simple cinematography paralleled by the plain rural town in which the movie is set. Each of his characters has a specific quirky personality that they stay true to every minute on camera. Dynamite's Deb seems to look to Welcome to the Dollhouse's Dawn for fashion and boy advice. The two films are geek anthems that are both pathetic and inspiring at the same time. Just as Dollhouse reached its peak with a fuming Dawn marching over to her male obsession and releasing her rage over years of being unaccepted Dynamite reaches a whole new peak with the curiously angry Napoleon putting on an emotional dance performance in front of his victim of choice--the entire student body class.

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