Ebert:1/2 Rolling Stone: TV Guide:1/2
minor plot points revealed!
Napoleon Dynamite is "flippin' sweet" and that's all there is to it. I laughed all the way through this movie and not because I thought I was being "cool" as suggested in Ebert's misguided attempt at a review.
There are going to be two comparisons that will instantly come to mind when watching Napoleon Dynamite and neither one of them are really fair. The first is the masterpiece Rushmore, and the second is the lesser known film Welcome to the Dollhouse. All three movies follow a nerdy somewhat unpopular kid around school and on miscellaneous routine daily adventures but that's about where the similarities end.
Napoleon is not as sharp or clever as Rushmore and Todd Solondz's Dollhouse and it was made by very amateur film makers (there are at least 3 times in the movie that I remember seeing the boom microphone drop into the shot.) By contrast Rushmore was written and directed by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson and crewed by established actors like Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox and Luke Wilson. The only "famous" person in Napoleon is a cameo by Diedrich Bader (Oswald on The Drew Carey Show or Lawrence the drunk neighbor in Office Space.)
Napoleon is more of a tribute to Rushmore made by some guys with a few credit cards and a video camera. If you can see it for the low rent achievement that it is then I guarantee you will enjoy this film.
The story follows the daily trials of Napoleon Dynamite, quite possibly one of the nerdiest characters ever portrayed on film. He's not a likeable nerd either. He's pretty much oblivious to his extreme geekdom so he can be mean and offensive as he goes about his regular teen life. Probably the reason he is unmindful of his situation is because he is surrounded by a family of nerds and an entire town full of dorks. Even the "cool" people in this town would be considered losers in most places. The film follows Napoleon as he helps a friend run for class president, tries to win the affections of a nerd-girl classmate and attempts to steer clear of his ATV riding grandma, his on-line chat-obsessed brother and his uncle who can't stop reliving his glory days on the 1982 High School football team.
The film actually seems to exist out of time and this adds to the real life fantasy. It's like a shut off biosphere somewhere in Idaho. It's hard to believe a place like this exists and it probably doesn't. It's more like the way someone in a small town, who wants to leave, would see their city and classmates. The characters are all exaggerations but only just beyond the horizon of reality. That's what makes the film work. You can't imagine that people like this actually exist but you can still empathize with them.
There are too many funny scenes to single any one out, but the dance routine toward the end of the movie is one of the funniest things I've ever seen.
My wife, who liked the movie, thought that it lacked cohesion. This is true. It doesn't have a solid story that flows throughout but I saw it as more of a slice of life type film. Like Dazed and Confused. It just follows some weird people around as they live their weird little lives.
The actors in the film are all super terrific. I was watching CNN one day and I saw the actor who played Napoleon and I could not believe he was the same person. This is also one of his first films. The uncle has been lots of other movies but always with tiny roles like Lazlo the guy who lives in the closet in Real Genius. He's awesome in this though. As are first time actors Aaron Ruell as Napoleon's brother Kip and Efren Ramirez as best friend Pedro. Haylie Duff, sister of Hilary, plays the popular girl at school and Tina Majorino spreads on the nerd thick as Napoleon's love interest.
If this movie is playing in your area you should really go see it. It's hilarious and fun to support such a major independent film effort. And this is about as "independent" as films get. If it's not playing nearby then rent it when it comes out on DVD. I'm sure everyone will enjoy this movie on some level. Boo- Yah!
Note: Here's a picture of what the Napoleon kid, Jon Heder, looks like in real life.