Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Fizzle, Pop, Thud: Napoleon Dynamite Disappoints

The Good: Quirky, Offbeat, Well-acted
The Bad: Debilitatingly slow pace, All characters are losers, Plot
The Basics: Awkward and short-tempered socially maladjusted Napoleon Dynamite makes two friends and the audience fails to connect or care.

I went into Napoleon Dynamite ready for a great time. I love movies about quirky characters and I was ready to watch a film with a triumph of an underdog. I tend to like those types of tales. Unfortunately, after the first few minutes of Napoleon Dynamite, I was left feeling like this movie was going somewhere that was neither funny, nor intriguing, nor truly geeky, nor - alas - even entertaining.

I have always had quirky friends. This movie is not about offbeat individuals or quirky, interesting characters. These are the losers the eccentrics won't have anything to do with. They boast excessively about things like their martial arts abilities and have no social skills (not social graces, but just the ability to interact with other human beings) and watching this movie becomes painful.

The movie starts with outsider high school student Napoleon Dynamite, living out in the Midwest with his grandmother and older, loser brother. When Grandma goes off and hurts herself, Napoleon's weird, stuck-in-the-past uncle comes to mind him. This comes at a horrible time for Napoleon as he begins interacting with girls, most notably Deb and Summer and Uncle Rico's interference complicates Napoleon's life. Against all odds, Napoleon makes a friend in new student Pedro and they work together, with Deb, to have Pedro run for class president.

There is something sad about this movie and not in an empathetic way, more like a pathetic way. Napoleon is just so awkward that he is difficult to watch, especially considering I've known so many people like Napoleon throughout the years. They are fun to be around, in limited quantities, because they are just so unique and incredible. However, they are also so out of touch with the world and what is actually happening in it that it is almost impossible to spend lots of time with them without feeling like they are just crazy.

And Napoleon has a short temper to him that makes him wear thinner even quicker. Instead of simply being awkward, whenever anyone shows any interest in him or his activities, he yells at them and snipes and is quick to push them away. Take the first scene of the movie; a little boy asks the protagonist what he plans to do on the bus today and he disgustedly tells him he'll do whatever he damn pleases. The kid seemed genuinely curious and interested and Napoleon pushes him away and discourages any attempts by anyone to care about him.

The character problems aside, the movie is off-paced, becoming boring quickly. Because the characters are so unlikable, we don't much care about them. So, we don't care when Napoleon goes to the dance or starts to plug Pedro for President. In fact, we care more about the arrival of Napoleon's older brother's (Kip) internet girlfriend LaFawnduh than we do about Napoleon by the middle of the movie.

On the other hand, the acting is pretty wonderful. Jon Heder is believable and wonderfully awkward as Napoleon Dynamite. He lends his gangly frame and loose body language to the part in an utterly convincing way that makes us thoroughly believe he is an ostracized teenager.

The supporting cast works amazingly with Heder. Deb is portrayed by Tina Majorino and she is subtle and quiet in a way that makes her seem a strangely likely partner to Napoleon. She conveys more with the movement of her eyes than many actors can with a soliloquy. Efren Ramirez and Aaron Ruell round out the supporting cast nicely as Pedro and Kip, creating awkward sidekicks to Heder's Napoleon that remind us constantly that the chronically awkward tend to travel in packs. Both Ramirez and Ruell play more subtle to Heder's manic making them excellent foils to the protagonist.

But, in the end, I found myself utterly disappointed with this movie. I had heard wonderful things and instead I found the familiar combined with negative traits that shied me away from empathy or sympathy. A superior collection of outsider tales may be found in Freaks And Geeks (reviewed here!), which has an awesome DVD collection that is more worthy of one's time, attention, and hard-earned dollars.

For other coming-of-age flicks, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Charlie Bartlett
Waiting . . .
American Beauty


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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