My boyfriend's sister was in town this weekend. She flew in from Art School, Iowa to spend time with her family in Chattanooga. Her last night in Tennessee was spent with us, here in Nashville. While in Chattanooga she saw The Day After Tomorrow with her aunt, and I think the consensus was that they thought it was dreadful. So, I suggested we maybe see a better movie while she was in town, and threw out Napoleon Dynamite. I'd heard it was very funny and got good reviews (even though the Nashville Scene's Noel Murray opined, "Napoleon Dynamite is to indie films what Franz Ferdinand is to indie rock—a cozy lump of familiar feelings and easy hooks, devoid of real substance."), and I wasn't sure how much longer it would be in theatres. We passed up opening night of Godzilla at the Belcourt because we were afraid it was already sold out. Napoleon Dynamite was an easy second choice.
I had popcorn, a bit of a buzz on--I was ready to laugh. The film opens with the Napoleon, the lead character (played by John Heder), boarding a school bus filled with grade school children. He has a big, fuzzy red afro, tucks his t-shirts into sweat pants and is a mouth-breather with a slobber problem. And everything he says is monotone, completely deadpan. The first joke of the film is Napoleon's response to a kid's inquiry about what he would do that day. "Whatever I feel like I wanna do, ok?" is our protagonist's drearily droll answer, but it's less about what he says than how he says it. The whiny, weird way he slams himself into the seat of the school bus as he does. This got big laughs from the audience. I hoped there would be some variety in the script. I would be disappointed.
I can admit the guy looks funny. And sounds funny. And he's very obviously trying to BE funny, but that is all the film offers up as comedy. A single, dorky character with a deadpan disposition. It's like a pretty good Mad TV sketch stretched to it's absolute end. The film doesn't try to actually do or say anything, which isn't nessecarily a requirement, but you've got to provide something else. A witty script, a sense of irony, any sort of devotion to the characters at all. Something like that.
Napoloeon Dynamite invests everything in their one-dimensional cast of characters plagued by irritating affectations. You either find that schtick funny or you don't. I fall hesistantly into the "don't" category.
I say hesitantly because I wanted to like it. I wanted to laugh. But I've seen Rushmore and Welcome to the Dollhouse before, and this looked like a dilluted and entirely lazy and clumsy homage to those. I know no more about Napoleon Dynamite than I did before I entered the theatre, not even how he got so incredibly nerdy.
I guess in the end it just seems half-assed. I bet I could have liked Napoleon, or learned what is so funny about him, or there could have been an interesting plot to accompany the endless empty eccentricity. Instead the filmmakers were so sure that their basket was big enough that they went ahead and put all the eggs in there.
[Big love to my sister for paying my TypePad bill while I wait for my new debit card from my new bank. And also big love to Anil for his help in keeping the page up and comments open. Treat yourself to a cookie or something nice. Then take out a piece of paper. Write on it, "Love, Brittney." That is from me to you.]