The misadventures of one of film's most unlikable heroes
There's a plot at work here, but it's not nearly as interesting as the bits of character study seen as Napoleon interacts with the people around him, namely his only friend, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), the school's only Mexican student, and Deb (Tina Majorino, Corrina, Corrina), an adorable, sweet girl with a slightly off-kilter mindset. Napoleon doesn't exactly get the concept of being an outsider (despite admitting he doesn't have great skills (like bowhunting and computer hacking)), so he chases girls outside his reach, only to get shutdown again and again. His every bit of dialogue leaves him out of breath, not because he puts so much into it, but because he doesn't seem to have much in the way of energy. Half the film is spent with his eyes closed, as he's unable to muster even that much effort. If I was faced with his life, I guess I'd be exasperated as well.
If Napoleon wasn't unlikable enough, his brother Kip and uncle Rico are around to meet the "ick" quota. Hooked on chat rooms, Kip is a weak and useless man, who doesn't seem to have a single bit of motivation in his body. Every word he said made me want to injure him physically. Rico isn't much better, a disturbing man living his life back in 1982, when he still had the promise of becoming a professional football player. Though in many ways Idaho resembles that very year, he is so trapped in the past he even looks into the possibility of time travel. Yet, despite his terrible personality, he is able to charm the women of Idaho into buying his crap.
I don't know if it was a choice by writer/director Jared Hess, but not a single woman in this movie can make a good decision when it comes to men. Every single one has awful judgment, but then, it's not like there are many choices. Outside of Pedro, who has some major issues of his own, you'd have a hard time finding someone in this film you'd let date your daughter. One feels bad for Deb, who deserves better choices, but even her head is in the clouds. And when Kip's cyber-dating pays off, one wonders what kind of reality this movie operates in. To say any more about that part of the film would do a disservice to first-time viewers of this film, as it's one of the more bizarre and surprising bits, one not ruined by the trailer.
In many ways, Napoleon Dynamite is a teen version of a Wes Anderson film, with stilted and original composition, quirky, flawed characters and a very tight soundtrack. But whereas Anderson creates heroes that an audience can embrace and laugh with, Hess has developed a film built around a character no one would want to even speak to. That doesn't mean one can't enjoy the experience of laughing at a cast that evokes more pity than sympathy. The film is original and interesting enough that you don't need to like the characters to like the movie.
On the full-screen side, is an assortment of extras (all of which are in full-screen), more than what is found on the widescreen side. Before he filled the role of Napoleon Dynamite, Heder was the equally geeky Seth, the star of Hess' nine-minute 2003 short film Peluca, which was developed into the feature-length version. The short is unbelievably grainy, thanks to overexposure of the negative by Hess, but it doesn't really interfere with watching the movie. Peluca focuses on Seth and his two friends at school, who were combined to become Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite. Nearly every concept in this short was incorporated into the film, though one ended up left on the cutting-room floor. Once again, Hess, Heder and Coon provide a commentary track, discussing the making of the short, with some insight into low-budget filmmaking.
"The Wedding of the Century" gives a look behind the scenes of the making of the new ending to Napoleon Dynamite, with a couple of on-set cast interviews thrown in for good measure. This is a must-watch, thanks to some behind-the-scene footage of Napoleon that is truly unforgettable and even shocking. In addition to promos for "Arrested Development" and the Napoleon Dynamite soundtrack, a selection of seven MTV commercials for the film are included, which can be watched separately or using a "play all" feature. Some are cute, but they mainly rehash the ideas in the movie. On the widescreen side, There are four deleted scenes, which can be viewed with our without commentary by Heder, Hess and Coon, and with a "play all" option, as well as a stills gallery. The deleted scenes, presented in letterboxed full-screen with time codes, are no big deal, but again, for fans they are worth a look, as they include one lifted directly from Peluca and one set during a kickball scene that gave Napoleon more backbone than he really should have had. After reviewing Billy Madison and this film, it seems the quickest way to get a scene cut is to add a kickball scene.
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