‘Napoleon Dynamite’ – high school eccentrics arise on Max

Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is the quintessential high school misfit.

Gawky and slack-faced under a red afro and windowpane glasses, Napoleon (Jon Heder) runs in a squatting shuffle, whines every single utterance, and punctuates his eternal disappointment with a sigh like a slow leak on a Mack Truck. With a fantasy inner life and an outsized weirdo vibe in his day-to-day routine, Napoleon is constantly pantsed, wedgied, and body-checked in the halls by the bullies and buttheads of his school.

He’d be a walking sight gag in any other film. Director Jared Hess makes Napoleon a special kind of hero at home in his eccentricities.

The nominal plot revolves around Napoleon’s attraction to shy loner Deb (Tina Majorino), who takes her fashion cues from Cindi Lauper, and efforts to help his friend and fellow social outcast Pedro (Efren Ramirez) become class president (his main qualification: he’s the only kid in school with a mustache), but the story is all in the character and off-balance personality of the film.

Imagine a John Hughes teen comedy remade by Jim Jarmusch and dropped in the town that time forgot. Hess doesn’t deliver punchlines as much as a skewed perspective that finds humor in creative eccentricity. His poker-faced direction and the relentlessly blank performances of the high school cast gives the screwy antics of the characters a deadpan matter-of-fact absurdity.

The time-warp of the indeterminate era (stray references to eighties pop culture collide with nineties technology, seventies thrift-store fashion, and sixties garage sale furniture) only enhances the surreal austerity of his Preston, Idaho setting.

A character study in personalities that defy classification, Napoleon Dynamite embraces its outcasts without compromising their cockeyed uniqueness. In the words of Napoleon himself, this defiant blast of idiosyncratic individuality is “Sweeeet!”

Aaron Ruell costars as Napoleon’s even more socially maladroit older brother, Jon Gries is their Uncle Rico, a would-be swinger who lives out of a van and recreates his high school football glory days on a daily basis, and Sandy Martin is their extreme sports-loving grandmother.

Rated PG

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Fandango, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Napoleon Dynamite [Blu-ray]
Napoleon Dynamite [DVD]

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The Blu-ray and DVD editions feature commentary by director/co-writer Jared Hess with actor Jon Heder and producer Jeremy Coon, five deleted scenes with commentary by Hess, Heder and Coon, the featurette “The Making of the Wedding of the Century,” TV spots and trailers.


Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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