Movies — Napoleon Dynamite (PG)

The 1980s live on in our hearts and, it appears, in a small Idaho town in Napoleon Dynamite, the It quirky indie comedy of the summer.

Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is the exact opposite of what his name would lead you to expect. He is all charisma, confidence and personality—somewhere deep, deep, deep inside. On the surface, he is a lanky, freakish, Bozo-haired outcast who spends his high school time being indifferently picked on by bullies, ignored by anything female and engaging in weirdly childish pastimes, such as drawing imaginary animals, dragging action figures behind the school bus and playing tetherball. With mouth perpetually open and eyes dull behind Coke-bottle glasses, Napoleon stares at tormenters and would-be friends like a lonely, Beavis-bereft Butthead.

And, nerdy and sad as his school life is, his home life proves just as sympathetic-head-shake-worthy. He lives with his grandma and his even-nerdier shut-in of an older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell). When grandma breaks her coccyx on the dune-buggy, the boys’ Uncle Ricco (Jon Gries), a high-school-football-star-hasbeen/wannabe-ladies’-man who sells Tupperware and herbal breast enhancers, comes to stay, taking Kip under his wing.

Napoleon finds some company, of a fashion, when he befriends Mexican student Pedro (Efren Ramierez), whom Napoleon helps run for president, and Deb (Tina Majorino), a side-ponytail wearing loner who tries to take glamour-shots and sell friendship bracelets out of her Caboodles to make money. This sad little trio are both aware of their unpopularity and determined to continue on, oddities and all, despite the serious impediments to their social success.

Napoleon Dynamite is less a funny movie and more a series of extremely funny scenes. Pedro tries to woo a popular girl by making her a cake. Deb poses Uncle Rico for a glamour shot. Kip meets LaFawnduh, a girl he’s been talking to on the Internet. A popular girl’s mom forces her to go to the dance with Napoleon. Napoleon, stranded without a ride to the dance, gets a ride from Pedro’s low-rider-driving cousins.

These scenes are funny individually, funnier, in fact, then they are taken together. Short stories with reccurring characters, the scenes float by—this one is hilarious, that one is merely chuckleworthy, this one has you laughing, this one has you squirming. It’s not plot. It’s skit comedy at critical size mass, it’s practiced improv, it’s 90 minutes worth of everybody’s most embarrassing high school moments.

—Amy Diaz


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