Napoleon Dynamite seems to be one of those films that end up in the “Love it or hate it” territory. It’s the kind of film that you realize about 15 minutes in whether or not you are going to enjoy yourself for the rest of its runtime. There aren’t going to be a lot of people who are going to come away from this film thinking that it was just average. You’re either going to love it, or hate it.
I’ve heard this film compared, at least in style, to films like I Heart Huckabees. These types of quirky, off-beat comedies that don’t always make the most sense, and yet still manage to be incredibly funny by the end, at least to the people who end up “getting it”. They don’t go for typical humor, like many comedies that you’ll see, and manage to find their own devoted fan base, usually filled with people who will defend the film to the end.
Case in point, I was talking to someone after watching Napoleon Dynamite, and the film ended up coming up in our conversation. Neither of us really liked the film, but a passerby decided that they needed to inform us that we are both stupid because we didn’t enjoy it. After pointing out what we believed to be flaws, we were told that we just didn’t get the film, and that we clearly couldn’t enjoy any films. Subtlety wasn’t a talent this fan wanted to show off, but being told I get the film was something that definitely struck a chord with me.
Now, I’m actually okay with not getting this film. Whether it was above me, or beneath me doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that Napoleon Dynamite just wasn’t funny to me. It did not have a single moment that made me laugh, nor did it have a single moment that mattered in the grand scheme of things.
The story, or, the events that occur within the film, follows the character Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder). He’s an awkward teenager, who brags about his non-existent skills such as his talent with nunchucks or his ability to shoot down 50 wolverines over the course of one summer. At one point, he befriends a couple of other students. Pedro (Efren Ramirez) is a new student to the school. He comes from Mexico, and whether it is just a part of his personality, or because he speaks limited English, he doesn’t speak that much. Appearing even less is Deb (Tina Majorino). She appears in very few scenes within the film, and acts somewhat as a love interest for Napoleon, despite the pair not really speaking or interacting with each other all that much.
I feel sorry for Jon Heder, because his portrayal as Napoleon is the only good thing that this film has going for it. He was paid only $1000 for his role, and he definitely deserved more. That is really the only thing about this film that I can say is “good”. I guess one could also say that the opening credits were creative. There’s something else, I suppose. In my eyes, Napoleon Dynamite only has those two things going for it.
The other actors didn’t do anything special, and some of them were just really bad. Maybe that was the point, having intentionally uninspired and emotionally disconnected performances, but it didn’t work out at all. You didn’t care for any of the supporting cast, just like you don’t care about Napoleon, as they don’t act like you would expect them to, and they don’t show any human-like emotions. There’s also the fact that one of the actors looked into the camera in a couple of scenes. If this wasn’t intentional, something is off with the editing, as that should have been removed before the product was released.
The rest of the film ended up being quite the mess that you have to wade through. It isn’t funny, as I previously mentioned, and for a comedy, that is a big problem. There wasn’t a single moment in time that I laughed, and there wasn’t even one where I was close to laughing. Not even during the, by now, overhyped dance scene, where Napoleon dances on a stage in front of a group of his fellow students. Not even the supposed highlight of the film made me chuckle. In fact, it made me feel even worse for Jon Heder. Putting him through that, as well as putting me through that gave me sympathy for him as a person.
Not for his character, mind you, as Napoleon is one of the most unlikable characters I can remember seeing. He is constantly a jerk, and the film seems to expect you to care when he gets bullied. He does nothing to endear himself to the audience, and makes wish that we were following a different main character. Maybe one that actually reacted nicely towards his supporting cast. Yeah, I think that would be nice. Instead, we get one that treats everyone terribly, and then expects us to care when he gets treated that way himself. Sorry Napoleon, it doesn’t work like that.
I was prepared to really like Napoleon Dynamite. It is an independent, quirky comedy film, something that I was told was similar to I Heart Huckabees. The person who told me that needs to not inform me about movies anymore. I Heart Huckabees was funny, whereas this movie wasn’t. It wasn’t funny at all, and didn’t have likable enough characters, or quirky situations that could make it funny. The actors, apart from Heder, who played his part well, all seemed like they didn’t care, and the story didn’t really have anything occurring in it. It wasn’t a narrative. Instead, it was just a series of events, one that I was sad to have witnessed.