Napoleon Dynamite Review

A once in a lifetime opportunity for Jon Heder had him atop the cream of the crop for a short time. A short time indeed. Napoleon Dynamite, under the remit of modern movers and shakers, is the rise and rise of a comedy star who will make bigger and better projects. Where did it go so wrong? Somewhere deep within this Jared Hess-directed comedy is an issue no man would ever mount. A character comedy. This titular beast was doomed for the reject bin, for his character is one. A sceptical mind could give him the benefit of the doubt, but Dynamite is the man whose style, attitude and standard of living depend wholly on who he is on the outside. 

For all we know, he could be a charming, intelligent man on the inside. We do not stick around long enough to really realise it. I have dealt with too many freaks, geeks and weirdos in my life to appease the quality, dress code and life of Napoleon Dynamite (Heder). His awkward, gangly looking loser is just that. A loser. There is no serviceable way of making him likeable. A man-baby who wishes to do whatever he wants with his day. His antagonism toward children or those that act a bit normal is odd and never offers up much hilarity. It leans into the tedium of a small-town living all too much, soon overcome by its monotony. 

Comedy may be subjective, but there is nothing ultimately funny about Napoleon Dynamite. It bases much of its humour on societal outcasts acting out in defiance and on the reliance of one another. But their resistance to conformity is arbitrary and useless. Should we be so judgmental of Dynamite? Yes. I see no reason not to be. He is a strange man in a stranger land. Much of the musical cues and humour on offer remind me of Postal 2, a game where everyday life is taken to a dynamic and stressful way of living through guns, grenades and madness. Napoleon Dynamite has the musical notes but lacks that rule of three which makes Postal 2’s mundanity so fun. There is much to note on the strangeness of the culture Dynamite finds himself in, but the merits are lukewarm at best, and Hess never makes much of his role as overseer of lonely living.  

Oddball characters are ten a penny, it is making them loveable, likeable, and interesting, that creatives must battle with. Heder and Hess never quite control the reasons for Napoleon Dynamite looking, feeling and seeming like an oddity of the world. Had it been offered into the hands of Wes Anderson; Napoleon Dynamite and its structure would not feel all that out of place. Its characters wouldn’t either, but the camera would dedicate itself to providing some semblance of likeability to them. Here, there is no such luck, and the more time we spend with Dynamite, the more we cannot accept him for what he is. A caricature of nerdy geeks from the late 1990s, somehow surviving well past his sell-by date. It explores little, and gains even less from its array of kooky characters.  

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