Napoleon Dynamite

Film, Comedy

Time Out says

For hit-hungry film distributors seeking a bargain at the annual Sundance Film Festival (where this indie gem premiered in January), this is exactly the kind of movie to set their hearts fluttering. Made for under $500,000, Hess’s debut feature has, to date, taken more than $43 million at the US box office. It’s a handsome payout, and proof that there is hope for small American filmmakers looking to compete with their big budget compatriots.

Not that any such cynical profiteering informed 25-year-old Hess’s original gameplan: to turn his hit short film, ‘Peluca’, a zero-budget, comic take on his small hometown of Preston, Idaho, into a full-length, subversive skit on the typical high-school comedy. Napoleon (

Jon Heder

) is our focus: a teenage boy so unattractive, so awkward, so out-of-sync, so damn wrong that he ultimately endears himself as an outlaw and fully-fledged hero. The obvious parallel is Dawn Wiener in Todd Solondz’s much superior ‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’. Like Dawn, Napoleon does himself no favours. He wears moon boots and bad T-shirts; he likes to sketch unicorns and ‘ligers’ (an imagined hybrid of a lion and a tiger); and he doesn’t know the first thing about friendship or romance. His dysfunctional family is equally bad: older brother Kip has the worst moustache in history and spends all day on internet dating sites, while Uncle Rico is a failing door-to-door salesman whose big dream is to return to 1982 and resurrect his stalled football career. It’s a cast of brilliant caricatures, and as such recalls the films of Wes Anderson, especially ‘Rushmore’.

Admittedly, much of the humour is very silly – feeding on sight gags and slapstick – and not all of it hits the mark. But there’s a serious side too. The embarrassments of school and teenage life are up there to squirm at in both shame and horror.


Release details

86 mins

Cast and crew

Jared Hess
Jared Hess, Jerusha Hess
Jon Heder
Jon Gries
Aaron Ruell
Efren Ramirez
Diedrich Bader
Tina Majorino
Haylie Duff

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