Written & Directed by Jared Hess, starring Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino and Jon Greis.
If Apathy had a poster-child, it’d be Napoleon Dynamite. He spends his days going to school to avoid his weird family, and his nights avoiding his classmates by hiding in his home drawing mythical beasts. His complacency is shaken when circumstances force him to experience two classic high school rites of passage: ask a girl to a dance, and help a friend run for Student President.
Between the bigger studios and the indie world, we get a handful of movies like this every year. Most are deservedly forgotten. Every so often, a performance comes along to set one film above the rest, becoming the prototype for the next generation of characters cherished by nerds as “quotable:” Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer, and Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite.
It’ll finish on Tuesday – CALIFORNIA PRIMARY DAY!! If you’re at a loss who to vote for, write in Pedro Sanchez.
AFTER THOUGHT from 6.15.11
I have pondered my statement above from three years ago that studios release movies like this. I now recant that statement. Maybe ten or twenty years ago NAPOLEON DYNAMITE would have a chance at a major studio, but not anymore; this film is living proof of the necessity of the film festival circuit. If this script were submitted to any of the major studios it never would have passed through the first round of readers. The characters are too passive, development execs would say, and the story is too challenging to market. If the script were submitted to a talent agency, Hess’s quirky dialog might have been enough to get him signed as a client, but he would have quickly found himself farmed out to the latest Fox, WB or UPN teen/tween show. Certain movies will only get made if a committed crew makes costumes out of their own clothes, borrows locations from neighbors, rents a camera and shoots it with no guarantee that anyone other than friends and family will ever see it. Where the studio marketing team sees a product that does not fit their target demographic paradigm, the audiences who seek out film festivals will take one look at Napoleon, and say “He looks weird, but I know a guy like that; I wonder what this kid’s story is?”
comedy, cult classic, film festival, high school, Jared Hess, Jon Heder
I like NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, but I do not love it, and I do not regard it as a cult classic. Then again that may be because I am not part of the cult! When we screened it over two days at the agency, the first day drew one of our best crowds ever, with all chairs at the conference table filled and some dragging their desk chairs in from outside. Only my pal Sammy showed up on the second day. Everyone else jumped ship, including a few people who had urged me for weeks to show it, and with whose lunch schedules I had coordinated the screening dates. This led me to a new theory about this movie: it worked initially because it was a surprise. Just as a studio story department can’t draw up a character like Napoleon by design, the film loses something if you plan to see it; it’s one of those movies that you may own on DVD but never watch. When it runs on cable after midnight you’ll stay up late to watch it. You could have planned to watch it at 8pm with your own DVD, but when it pops up as a surprise, that is when the charm shines through. Just a theory; I’ll have to test that by catching it unexpectedly, like I tested my “studios give us movies like this every year” notion. What do you think?