Napoleon Dynamite looks like he watched too many bad summer movies. Throughout the film that bares his name, he stares dumbly at the ground as if he just sat through "Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid."
Portrayed with hilarious one-note perfection by Jon Heder, the mouth-breathing, mildly angry Napoleon evades eye contact not because of shyness, but because it doesn't seem worth the effort to raise them. Napoleon is a disaffected youth, but he doesn't have to work full time to be disaffected like most filmic teens; his disaffection is utterly genuine. He's been out of the mainstream his whole life and he's comfortable with it.
And, of course, the film itself is out of the mainstream, falling into that category of films we often see around this time of year when the "Spider-mans" and "Harry Potters" stop clogging theaters: quirky, compelling character pieces you usually have to drive to the Cities to see on the big screen.
If you go
Title: "Napoleon Dynamite"
Playing at: Movies 10 at Westgate
Starring: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino, Haylie Duff
Written by: Jared and Jerusha Hess
Director: Jared Hess
But Movies 10 at Westgate is throwing us film geeks a bone by screening "Napoleon," and if we're lucky maybe "Garden State" and "Mean Creek" will sneak onto local screens as well. (If they don't, both are well worth the drive to the Cities.)
If you take the opposites of all the words that describe Napoleon at first glance (dull, bored and emotionless), you've just described the full-length debut from director Jared Hess (who co-wrote the film with wife Jerusha): sharp, witty and, well, it's tempting to call it affecting, but that'd be lying. It is laugh-out-loud funny, though.
Despite his exaggerated sighs (one of his first lines is "Ugggggghhhhhhh") and his time-consuming drawings of "ligers" (a half-lion, half-tiger), there is a mind churning away under Napoleon's mass of orange curls. He meets a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who has the same non-personality, and sees an opportunity to make a friend ("friend," of course, being measured by their commonality as outcasts rather than any common interests).
When a sweet, awkward girl named Deb (Tina Majorino) knocks on the Dynamites' door peddling Glamour Shots, it's a chance to get a girlfriend, although Napoleon and Pedro are also eyeing popular girl Summer (ably played by Hilary Duff's older sister, Haylie, the only evidence that this movie wasn't filmed in a parallel universe).
In a typical teen movie (or even good, arty teen movies like "Ghost World" or "The Good Girl"), Napoleon would be profoundly depressed. His uncle (Jon Gries), still dreaming of his high school football days, and his older brother (Aaron Ruell), who spends all his time surfing the Net for women, should see to that.
But that's not the case here. "Napoleon," like Napoleon, is on its own bizarre path, wrapped in a fascinating, palpable aura of not caring about anything.
Heder's performance is so consistently exaggerated that Napoleon is clearly a parody of the stereotypical geek, and yet, because we rarely see characters like Napoleon, Pedro and Deb outside of Todd Solondz films, it also seems like we're voyeuristically watching people who are only in a movie because Hollywood's originality police took a month off and Hess snuck in the back door.
Napoleon may be bored, but, like "Napoleon Dynamite," he is the exact opposite of boring.
JOHN HANSEN, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5863.
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