A Nerd for All Seasons
I’m trying to remember when I laughed as much in a movie as I did while watching Napoleon Dynamite -- probably not since the last time I saw Waiting for Guffman. Both comedies feature characters I immediately cared about in spite of their faults and silly behavior. In Napoleon Dynamite, the people are more realistic than in Guffman, but they’re just as hilarious.
First, there’s Napoleon himself -- a tall, geeky high school student who lives with his grandma and older brother. As played by Jon Heder, this put-upon teenager made me smile every time he appeared on screen. Looking at his mop of bushy hair, I couldn’t help thinking about “Sideshow Bob” from TV’s The Simpsons, but his unique stare and monotone delivery drew me into the poignant world of nerd existence.
Next, meet Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a new student Napoleon befriends after everyone else shuns him. When Pedro decides to run for Student Body President, Napoleon agrees to help with the campaign. Even though Pedro gets in trouble by introducing a piñata in the form of his “mean popular girl” rival candidate (Haylie Duff), Napoleon saves the day during an election assembly. I can’t say how, of course, because that would spoil the surprise. Just know it involves Napoleon doing something you least expect and doing it amazingly well.
Then there’s Deb (Tina Majorino), a shy, budding entrepreneur who makes colorful key chains and shoots glamour shots when she’s not trying to get Napoleon to pay attention to her. Finally, there’s Napoleon’s wacky family -- Kip, a thirtysomething brother (Aaron Ruell) with nothing better to do than spend time in chat rooms on the Internet; a grandmother (Sandy Martin) who winds up in the hospital as the result of a dune buggy accident; and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), a selfish loser who almost ruins his nephews’ lives when he moves in to take care of them.
Oops! I almost forgot LaFawnduh (Shrondella Avery), Kip’s Internet girlfriend. Talk about a live wire! When she comes on camera, the sparks really fly. LaFawnduh becomes the catalyst that changes everything for Napoleon and his brother.
Thanks to Jared Hess (director and co-writer with Jerusha Hess, his wife), Napoleon Dynamite reminds us not to judge a book by its cover. And the same goes for this movie. Don’t judge it by its simple production values, such as opening credits written on plates of food. Evaluate it by what’s inside: the tale of an amusing and lovable main character with the courage to meet the challenges of high school despite his social ineptitude.
(Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and rated “PG” for thematic elements and language.)
This review is dedicated to Hollie Thornton, Napoleon's number one fan.