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Laramie Movie Scope:
Napoleon Dynamite

An unpolished gem of a comedy

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 27, 2004 -- “Napoleon Dynamite” is one of those rare, small independent films that finds a mainstream audience. Crudely and cheaply made, this film is nonetheless doing well at the box office all over the country. The reason? Simple, it's funny. It has a surrealistic, but effective story loaded with interesting characters and good sight gags.

The title character, Napoleon Dynamite, is played by Jon Heder. He also appeared in a short film, “Peluca,” which was directed by Jared Hess, who wrote and directed “Napoleon Dynamite.” Hess is from Preston, Idaho, where this story is set. He clearly understands how small rural towns work. Few comedies are set in rural Idaho, or rural anywhere, for that matter. This unusual setting gives the film an exotic quality. The themes of the movie are universal, however. It is a coming-of-age movie about two outsiders, Napoleon, and his friend, Pedro (played by Efren Ramirez) who try to get dates for the dance and win the school election. The plot is more like a series of blackout sketches that fit loosely together. The editing seems almost haphazard. What makes it work is character development. For trivia buffs, Hilary Duff's sister, Haylie Duff, plays the part of Summer, the school's diva, and Pedro's competition for school president.

In addition to Napoleon and Pedro, Napoleon's nerdy, stay-at-home brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), his ex-jock wanabe Uncle Rico (Jon Gries of “Northfork”), his would-be girlfriend, Deb (Tina Majorino) are all quirky, but well-defined characters. That's four more characters than a lot of recent Hollywood films managed to develop. Uncle Rico wants to use a time machine to go back to his high school years and win the big game. He's the kind of guy that even if he could go back in time, he still couldn't get things right. All of these characters, however, show a lot of optimism about the future. They all have faith that things will get better for them. Uncle Rico thinks his get-rich-quick schemes are going to work. Pedro thinks he will be elected class president, and Napoleon just believes in himself. This optimism is refreshing compared to the pessimism in most films, including independent films, that are being made today. In addition to being optimistic, the characters in the film are also uncompromising. The film is also uncompromising in the way these characters are depicted. These characters never conform, and neither does the film.

Good use of location photography is made in the film. One scene showing some boys on a lunch break at a chicken farm shows the stark, treeless Idaho landscape in the background. Similar backgrounds are shown in several other scenes in the film. One scene shows Uncle Kip camped out in the middle of nowhere. Some of these scenes tend to heighten Napoleon's sense of isolation from the rest of the world. It is also another way of showing these characters are not intimidated by the world's massive indifference to them. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)