Every year, one particular film is labeled by the media as a “surprise hit.” This past year was no exception with a low-budget indie about a dorky Idahoan that earned $46 million. Backed by a massive ad campaign and MTV’s support, “Napoleon Dynamite” found a teenage audience drawn to the film’s eccentric lead and favorable word-of-mouth.
Set in director/co-writer Jared Hess’s hometown, the film focuses on the daily life of the geeky Napoleon (Jon Heder). With his giant afro, unicorn shirts and moon boots, Napoleon embodies the awkwardness that is high school — of course, he’s oblivious. Instead, he sets his disdain upon his equally tacky older brother, Kip (who spends his time “talking to hot babes online”), and visiting Uncle Rico (who’s stuck in his high school glory days).
Although essentially plotless, free of any drugs, profanity or sex (a reflection of Hess’s Mormon upbringing), the film manages to be hilarious. Relying upon one-liners, Hess and his wife and co-writer, Jerusha, craft such an absurd environment and memorable characters that audiences can’t help but laugh. With his trademark quips “sweet” and “what the flip?” Napoleon is the perfect anti-hero, and Heder’s deadpan delivery is classic.
The DVD’s features, although not extensive, are enjoyable. The short film “Peluca,” which “Napoleon Dynamite” is based on, was made while Hess was in college. The film depicts Seth (still played by Heder, but not yet Napoleon) in a condensed version of the feature with a cast comprised almost entirely of local students — including two characters later combined to create Pedro, Napoleon’s best friend.
The commentary provided by Hess, Heder and producer Jeremy Coon provides insight into how the film’s eccentric aspects came to life. Viewers also learn that Napoleon’s moonboots come courtesy of an uncle, while the pet llama, Tina, is one of five owned by Hess’s family.
The film’s picture and sound prevent “Napoleon Dynamite” from being a truly great DVD. Conversations are often too quiet and sometimes indecipherable. The slightly grainy picture, although still impressive for such a low-budget film, is bothersome at points. Regardless of these shortcomings, “Napoleon Dynamite” has a cult-classic aura that makes each viewing just as fun as the last.
Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Picture/Sound: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Features: 3 out of 5 stars