Saturday, May 3, 2014

Napoleon Dynamite at 10

By David Luhrssen
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Although it had no stars and a low budget, Napoleon Dynamite found an audience outside the usual indie film circles. Marking the anniversary of its release, “Napoleon Dynamite: 10 Sweet Years” is a Blu-ray/DVD set with the expected deleted scenes, making-of shorts and comments by writer-director Jared Hess and star Jon Heder. The movie itself is the main attraction and the comedy has aged well.

Perhaps the reason for Napoleon Dynamite’s success is that many of us can remember the social awkwardness of that excruciating rite of passage called high school. Heder plays Napoleon, a physically uncoordinated dork from the back row of the classroom—off in his own corner of reality sketching pictures instead of taking notes. He speaks in a pained monotone with eyes half-shut as if to shut out the outside world. Occasionally, some bully bangs his head against his locker for sport.

One suspects Napoleon might be smart and could excel in a better environment. But he comes from dim: his Uncle Rico purchases a time machine online because he wants to go back to his glory year, 1982, when he was the high school football champ. The family lives in the Idaho flatland, in lower-middle class tract housing with fake wood paneling. It’s a place where Rico can actually scratch up some cash selling 32-piece Tuppaware sets door to door.

With its rambling loose-limbed structure and rigorously maintained tone of ironic deadpan, Napoleon Dynamite comes from the school of Wes Anderson. It could have been a great follow-up to Rushmore—if Anderson hadn’t moved on to other things.

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