Settling comfortably into the high-school angst genre, 24 year-old
filmmaker Jared Hess' low-budget comedy, which was a hit at the Sundance Film
Festival, focuses on losers.
Technically, it's a sequel. Actor Jon Heder played the same deadpan,
socially-inept character, then named Seth, in a 2001 Brigham Young University
student short called "Peluca." But since its audiences were sparse, few will
realize that Seth has morphed into Napoleon Dynamite.
Nerdy, bespectacled Napoleon lives in rural Preston, Idaho, with his
energetic grandmother (Sandy Martin), her pet llama, and Kip (Aaron Ruell), his
slacker older brother who searches for love in Internet chatrooms. When he's
not drawing "ligers" (lion/tiger), Napoleon's friends are two other outcasts:
Deb (Tina Majorino), an aspiring photographer and Pedro (Enfen Ramiriz), a shy
Mexican transfer student who impulsively decides to run for class president
against the popular prom queen (Haylie Duff, Hilary's sister). Complications
arise when Grandma cracks her coccyx in a dirt bike accident and macho Uncle
Rico (John Gries) comes to stay with them. He's a door-to-door salesman/con man
who's wistfully obsessed with a time-travel machine he bought over the Internet
in hopes of re-visiting a fateful football game back in 1982.
Reminiscent of Richard Linklater's "Dazed and Confused" and Wes
Anderson's "Rushmore," this quirky, episodic homage to dim-witted, awkward,
ostracized geeks is certainly a promising feature film debut. Jared Hess, his
screenwriter wife Jerusha and cinematographer Munn Powell are just beginning
their cinematic journey. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Napoleon
Dynamite" is a curiously charming 6. It's an outlandish, goofy diversion.
Copyright © 2004 Susan Granger