Friday, August 8, 2014


Just say "no" to Summer!

Remember how, I said in the UHF review that the 80's/90's Transitional Period was awesome for media? That's just me in response to the movies and TV shows that came during that era, though I wasn't old enough to be able to remember that much of that era and watched them later in life. On a personal level, the first half of the 2000's was a pretty nostalgic time for me. I was in high school and starting to get into anime.

During the time I was in my first semester of college, a friend of mine (whom I haven't, sadly, seen in years) asked me about a little movie called Napoleon Dynamite. I'd seen commercials for it beforehand and thought it was stupid without even looking at it. She said it one of the funniest things she'd ever seen in her life and let me borrow her DVD copy of it. Skeptical, took it to Dad's and watched it...

Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

We begin getting to know the titular Napoleon (Jon Heder): he's this lanky nerd with a frozen face and absolutely no social skills. He tends to give "current events" to his class that involve wizards, the Loch Ness Monster and tell the jocks about his adventures in Alaska hunting wolverines. But his stories must be taken with a grain of salt, since he tends to make stuff up. My guess is that he doesn't want to brag about feeding a llama.

The high point of Napoleon's life.

He lives with his dorky thirty-something brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and grandmother (Sandy Martin). Kip is an even bigger loser than Napoleon, spending most of his time online trying to get girls! He tries to join this martial arts program in an attempt to become a cage fighter... only to get smacked around by the bombastic sensei.

It's kinda hard to talk about what happens in the movie, because there isn't really a story! Yeah, if you were coming into this thing expecting a detailed plot, sorry, you won't find it. The movie actually has three! One plot ends halfway through the movie when the second is set into motion, while a subplot runs throughout the film.

Subplot: The Misadventures of Kip and Uncle Rico

About twenty-one minutes into the movie, Granny Dynamite breaks her coccyx while riding a dune buggy. As a result, Napoleon and Kip's ne'er-do-well Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) has to stay with them. Rico is a guy who held the ever-so-important position of benchwarmer on his college football team back in 1982. His obsession with his "glory days" eventually led to his girlfriend kicking him out, forcing him to live in his van and use a camcorder to film himself pretending to be in a football game.

"This is pretty much the worst video ever made!" (Wait until March 29, 2013, Napoleon)

Rico enlists Kip in helping him sell Tupperware all over Preston, Idaho. The situation may seem boring at first, but it results in the biggest laugh of the whole movie (I won't spoil it, but let's just say it involves Rico's van). Rico peddles his wares, even going as far as to make up sob stories about Napoleon just to get a little money.

What is the end result of the Tupperware escapade? Rico buys a "time machine" from a scammer.

Next, Rico tries to sell breast-enhancement stuff (something that gets Napoleon in all kinds of trouble; refer to Plot 2), but Kip opts out for a while -- he finally found a girl online who's interested in him and he refuses to give her any. Lucky for him... but the same can't be said for Rico (I won't say what happens, but it's so satisfying).

Plot A: Let's Go To the Hop!

A new student, Pedro Sanchez (Efren Ramirez), has moved from Mexico to Preston and quickly falls in with Napoleon. With the school dance looming, Pedro tries to one Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff) to go with him. He even bakes a cake for her.

Only one problem: Summer's POPULAR! So she says no.

Pedro also asked out another girl out, Debbie (Tina Majorino), who accepted. The viewer met Debbie earlier, when she tried to peddle boondoggle keychains to Napoleon in order to raise funding for college. She dumped her inventory on Napoleon's stoop and he had to give it back to her in exchange for a keychain. 

After Napoleon laments his inability to find a date, Pedro suggests that draws the girl he'd like to ask out and gives her the picture. He picks one Trisha Stevens and delivers it to her house.

After working on a chicken farm for a dollar per hour, Napoleon hears back from Trish (who was forced by her mother to respond, thanks to one of Uncle Rico's fabricated stories; see subplot). He tries to get Uncle Rico to be their chauffeur, but he's too busy with his Tupperware schemes to keep his word. Fortunately, Napoleon meets up with Pedro's cousins in their awesome ride! 

Hm, Trish doesn't seem thrilled about the date...
Oh. She's a popular kid. Of course. It all makes sense.

Naturally, Trish leaves Napoleon for the other Populars. Napoleon is clueless as to what happened to her, but Pedro lets him dance with Deb until she comes back. We quickly learn that there's nothing going on between her and Pedro, leaving the door open for her and Napoleon to get together.

With this, Plot 1 comes to an end.

PLOT B: Vote For Pedro

After seeing this poster as he runs to get water, Pedro decides to run for student body president. Predictably, Summer's thrown her hat into the ring and the Populars try to get Napoleon to support the caste system... but he sticks by Pedro.

Unfortunately for Pedro, his hair was somehow making him ill and he had to shave it all off. Napoleon and Deb give him a wig that makes him look like a "medieval warrior" and they hit the campaign trail. It seems promising at first, but Rico starts hawking Bust Must Plus herbal breast enhancers to every girl he can find... including the Populars. This results in Napoleon's locker getting plastered with Rico's flyers.

Pedro gets into trouble for making a pinata that looks like Summer (a common practice in Mexico). It would seem that Populars happen to be a protected caste in this universe because it's an insult "to the Gem State". As a result, Pedro's flyers are all taken down, giving Summer the advantage in PR.

During the pinata drama, Napoleon is rummaging around a thrift shop where he comes across a VHS tape that teaches people how to dance. He mostly practice the new moves in his bedroom... which is kinda disappointing for me because we see so little of it (it's a bit funky). He meets Kip's girlfriend LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery), who's waiting on him to get ready for their date; Kip comes in (looking pretty street) and LaFawnduh gives Napoleon a mix tape as the couple leaves.

Kip always had more skills than his brother: champion of D&D, MC Escher's
his favorite MC...
Rico tries to push breast enhancers on Deb by lying about Napoleon wanting her to take them (see subplot); she falls for it and refuses to want anything to do with her ex-friend.

The day of the big speech comes. Summer gives this really "Ohmaggosh"-sounding speech that's actually kind of racist toward the end. Once it's over, they learn at the last second that candidates are required to perform a skit after the speech. 

Pedro's speech is pretty short and only gets scattered applause. When it's time for their sketch, Napoleon improvises with his new dance moves and LaFawnduh's tape.

It gets a standing ovation.

Ladies and gentlemen, the only two people who will NOT be cheering.

Pedro wins the election, Kip and LaFawnduh go steady, Granny Dynamite recovers, Rico's girlfriend comes back, and Napoleon and Deb get back together. Aw, we don't get to see Summer's pity party with Trish? Oh well...

The credits roll, and we're treated to an extra scene:

Kip and LaFawnduh tie the knot and the former sings an awful love song. Napoleon ends the singing by showing up with a stallion that he tamed for the couple to ride off into the sunset.



Napoleon Dynamite is like a coin being flipped: you only have a 50% chance of liking it and 50% chance of hating it (*coughcough*BradJones*cough*). 

As for me, I thought it was really good. I didn't know what to expect going in, but after it was over I wanted to own my own copy of it. I re-watched it a few times, every time I did I kept thinking that it was made twenty years after its time.

Seriously, it's almost like an 1980's John Hughes movie sans most of the bawdiness (a plus in my book -- gives it a broader audience). I don't just mean that in terms of how the movie feels, but also in the way it looks: the aesthetics, the high school setting, the background music, almost everything feels that way. If you weren't paying attention to the 90's dial-up internet or "Larger Than Life" by the Backstreet Boys, you'd think this was from that decade.

But if you came in to this movie thinking you'd find a garden variety high school movie that revolved around trying to become a homecoming king, stealing the rival school's mascot or whatever, prepare to have those notions destroyed. It pretty much subverts or downplays that stuff.

Still, it's a quirky little crowd-pleaser in my book. I'd say give it a watch, see how you react! The only real complaint I could imagine someone coming up with is pacing (it can get a little slow for some).

Oh, right. There was also a short-lived cartoon on FOX back in 2012.

Hmm... still August...

I'll follow up this review by looking at this!

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Lucky!

Napoleon Dynamite is owned by Fox Searchlight, Paramount, and, like, infinity other parties.

1 comment:

  1. I liked this movie mildly. I don't mind occasionally forgetting about it, but I also don't mind less occasionally re-watching it.