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Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004)

Following dinner for our church's young adults group.

Whoever was organizing had picked out the movie. I wasn't too disappointed as it was a movie I had been curious to see for awhile.

By the time I finally got around to watching Napoleon Dynamite – or was more accurately, forced to – I had already long been subjected to an endless string of context-lacking and seemingly banal ND quotes from various peers, most of whom’s cinematic tastes I found, suspect, to say the least. This cult-classic-mania fallout had admittedly conditioned me to expect yet another cookie-cut-juvenile-teenage film. And while its backers might still describe it as a juvenile-teenage flick, I can’t imagine even its sharpest detractors ever accusing it of being archetypal.

I was amazed not only by the film’s most noticeably unique brand of humour – a sharp contrast to the extremist gross-out comedies of today – but more strikingly by writer/director Jared Hess’s visionary direction of the film itself.

Napoleon is certainly a unique as far as comedic protagonists go. While he can be firmly categorized as a loser, unlike his other genre counterparts he never expresses any real longing to be part of the crowd and appears perfectly content being who he is. Neither does Hess shows any interest in dissecting or psychoanalyzing Napoleon’s behaviour to show it isn’t all a ploy.

The film’s unconventional narrative resembles a series of good ol’ high school “hey, remember back when…” anecdotes replete with such esoteric details as Tater Tots and reverse leg sweeps which don’t amount to an overall thesis, but certainly constitute or perhaps more importantly, evoke, what one might deem to be an experience.

Hess’s vision combined with the subtlety and restraint he displays in his direction are rare enough for any director in any genre, miraculous and unheard of in the world of teen comedies. You get the feeling that if this were a more “ambitious” (read: serious) film, critics would be falling over themselves dissecting the symbolism or metaphor of Pedro’s hair shaving, Napoleon’s dance moves or his love of ligers.

Unfortunately, ND’s strength ultimately proves to be its downfall. The film rests solely upon its unique vision and brand of humour, this uniqueness gives the film a fresh feeling, but with little else to sustain it, the shtick eventually gets old. We can only watch the characters stare blankly off into space so many times before it ceases to become effective – comedically or dramatically.