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Napoleon Dynamite [2004)

If this film makes you cry, then you have problems.  Welcome to my world.  Hopefully this will be the best thing I have ever written.

There are a couple of times.  Laugh out loud.  But those parts which pass by like strange quirks.  The space in between laughs.  That is the pathos of marginalia.

People.  Marginalized.  What the hell am I talking about?

There’s awkward and aw-kward.  It is the latter with which we are concerned.  A whole new level of pariah.

But also mundane.  And not to be forgotten…endearingly strange.

Preston, Idaho.  It’s real.  Really exists.

Napoleon and his brother Kip.  Lots of weird mustaches here.  But Napoleon is just the geeky gawky gangly guy growing up.

As Kip shows, some of us never grow up.  And Uncle Rico…whoa mama.  All regrets and what-ifs.

Grandmother was at the dunes and broke her coccyx.  Tailbone.

Riding the four-wheeler.

Grandma’s got a boyfriend.  Or a girlfriend.  Or something.

This is one time when some Wikipedia contributor has actually done a loving portrait of a film.


Rico is our campervan Beethoven.  A real jerk.  But not without his humorous (humerus?) moments.  Funny bone.

Fortunately LaFawnduh’s cousin is apparently Jamiroquai (they being a band and not a person).

Whoa…aw-kward.  Writing.

Jon Heder approaches the greatness of Peter Sellers in this film.  Heder is our lead…our anti-Bond (James).  Not cool.  Never was cool.  Painfully existing.

Tina Majorino brings an indispensable side ponytail grace to this story.  Such a beautiful girl.  A real person.  This film succeeds by employing a sort of Robert Bresson technique.  It also is the laughing equivalent of the Romanian New Wave.  To wit, Jared Hess made one of the most important American movies of recent decades.  Kudos to Fox Searchlight Pictures for giving this the distribution it deserved.  We know they later picked up Beasts of the Southern Wild.  Nice job Fox Searchlight!

And why do we cry?  Part of it is Efren Ramirez as Pedro.  Down here in San Antonio.  People living for their Spurs.  I know.  Me too.  Small victories seem so big.  El Presidente.  He builds her a cake.  The vacuous Summer.  No!!!  (little hearts beneath the exclamation points)

It’s hot.  Pedro doesn’t have air conditioning.  Napoleon’s top-loading VCR comes in handy after he scores a sweet Kid ‘n’ Play video at the thrift store.  Kip backs over the Tupperware in a failed Ginsu demonstration.  “Dang it!”

Pedro from Juarez.  In Idaho.  That’s like a Martian in Indiana or Iowa.  It’s real.  We all end up someplace.  For some reason.  And the cousins with the sweet low-rider.  The cousins with the hookups.  A short segment about banding together.  People with odds stacked against them helping other people with odds stacked against them.

A very humble project.

And someday Napoleon’s ligers will hang in the MoMA…and his portrait of Trisha (with the deftly-shaded upper lip) will fetch $100 million at Sotheby’s.

And LaFawnduh from Detroit.  Definitely AOL-era.  No cellphones in this movie.  Deb (Majorino) has to go to a payphone to tactfully reprimand Napoleon.  But it was all Rico’s fault.  Uncle Rico.  Hell, Napoleon even got a job moving chickens…for $1 an hour.  And they had big talons!  Just drink the raw eggs and mingle with the farmers.  The old people have good stories.  About Shoshone arrowheads in the creek bed.  White-bread sandwiches.  I don’t understand a word I just said.

It’s that I don’t have any skills.  Nunchuk skills.  Computer hacking skills.  Cage fighting skills.  Rex kwon do skills.

Oops.  Yeah, I dress like Peter Pan.  Forever the butt of a joke.

Napoleon runs like Forrest Gump…with Trisha’s corsage.  But it’s lonelier.  It’s stranger.  Like Peter Sellers doing Camus.  Chaplin and Sartre.  Les Temps modernes.

So when the antihero finally succeeds it elicits an honest firestorm of support.  Lots of people with nothing to live for. A little saint for the hallway.  A prayer has been answered.  They already tore down my high school.  Same name, different building.  I pass it everyday.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Some might say.  I know there’s a place for me somewhere.

It’s not all about tetherball.  It’s the determination.  A solitary game.  A clueless dork.  Thanks be to god.  THis movie.


18 responses to “Napoleon Dynamite [2004)

  1. migarium

    When I first watched I thought it was absurd-comedy in the style of cartoons. But in my second watching, I saw it was actually sincere and real. And, you described the movie in your own great style, as usual, dear Earthling Pauly 🙂

    According to me, Napoleon Dynamite is one of films that reflect the state of people’s contradictory to me. That is, while the people are living with small dreams in small provincial anywhere on the planet, after they settled in big cities, that small provincial is becoming a place where they don’t want to see anymore.

    Their small dreams are crushing under the big buildings, big moneys, under the wheels of capitalism. Humanity begins to live in falsehood. Because, actually so many of them don’t have a real big dream about capitalism. After watching a movie like Napoleon Dynamite (you know well more than me;), there are films of almost each country), it is understood this is not a absurd, this is a real and sincere. And that remote life sincere is wrapping.

    And I think the liger was a beautiful animal, dear Pauly 🙂

    • Yes, you are right my friend. It is provincial. Some things transcend cultures. The Romanian movies I like because they portray real people. Not glamorous people. I wish I could meet people like this. Brave people. Sometime it is just hard to wake up and face the day. There are real heroes all over the world who must overcome horrible situations. I think of Kiarostami too…his movie Taste of Cherry. Sometimes it is good to see the other side of life in a movie. Too many movie stars. I want that hope which comes from everyday people. It takes a true talent to achieve such a sublime communication across cultures. Thank for commenting my friend! –Paul

  2. BeeHappee

    Great review!
    But did you really cry? 🙂
    The Bear River massacre that happened near Preston ID is what makes me cry.

    • Yeah, really. Hard to explain such a headspace. I’ve watched it as a laugher, but it really hit home as a cross-section of marginal society. Reminds me of friends I miss. Reminds me of me. –Paul

  3. Dude the cleaner ⋅

    Love this one good one. Nice review.

  4. BeeHappee

    I recently watched The Way I spent the End of the World. What are your favorite Romanian movies?
    I grew up with Russian films, many of which were either WWII dramas, or romantic comedies, then there were a few Lithuanian films which were attempts at being existentialist. And then, the borders opened and we got “Saved by the Bell” and we teens thought, wow, look how perfect all those people are! It was like whole new planet out there somewhere, and everyone suddenly wanted to travel there. 🙂 Little did we know. . .

    • Yeah, The Way I Spent the End of the World is so good! And also 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days! And one more: 12:08 East of Bucharest. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a rough one…very sad and bleak. The other three each give me hope in ways unique to themselves respectively. –Paul

  5. blazeburgess ⋅

    The phrase “an indispensable side ponytail grace” will be with me always.

    Great review, as ever.

  6. ZL Sickels ⋅

    You stay home and eat all the frickin chips Kip! Great review. Seriously I’m always telling my kinds to just make themselves a dang CASE-A-DILL-A.

  7. Napoleon Dynamite is a love letter to everyone who felt like a loser in high school, and I am one of those people.

    Great quote: “People with odds stacked against them helping other people with odds stacked against them.”

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