Napoleon Dynamite (2004) *
Directed by Jared Hess. Written by Jared Hess & his wife Jerusha Hess. Photography, Munn Powell. Editing and executive Producer, Jeremy Coon. Production design, Cory Lorenzen.
A first feature, apparently inspired by Mr. Hess’s 9-minute short “Peluca. ” Hess (now about 25) was born in Preston, Idaho --pop. under 5,000,--attended the film program at Utah’s Brigham Young University (where he met his wife-to-be Jerusha,) and later worked in a few films as assistant cameraman and such jobs.
“Napoleon Dynamite” was shot in Preston. It centers on (and around) Napoleon, whose name and surname remain inexplicable. (Mr. Hess says that he once encountered in Chicago an old Italian so named). Hmm!
Napoleon is, in various ways, a nerd, a geek, an inarticulate freak in too large eyeglasses –you name it. He lives with his older brother Kip and their grandma. Kip, 31, is glued to internet chat-rooms, in search of a female soulmate. When Grandma gets injured when riding a dune buggy (sic!), Uncle Rico shows up. His current profession is the (fruitless) door to door sale of plastic containers and, as later revealed, a breast-expanding product.
Napoleon is not exactly popular with his schoolmates. Still, he somehow forms a vague and un-dangerous liaison with timid student Deb who takes photographs of people (why, I cannot remember,) gets a side-job of selling (awkwardly and door to door) cheap key-chains (or something of the sort) and has fits in the process.
Then we get new student Pedro, a caricature of Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. I forget whether or not Pedro speaks English beyond its rudiments. Anyway, after Napoleon mistakes him for a janitor, the two fellows become friends in odd and inarticulate ways. Then Napoleon, very oddly campaigns for Pedro to become class President.
And on and on and more on, or is it “moron?” The movie keeps getting overcome by senselessness and nastiness. It spares nobody. Not even local chicken growers who hire Napoleon. In fact, there is a merciless sequence of chickens so horribly, densily packed in wire cages that the SPCA could use it ina protest.
There’s no visible structure to this movie. Many years ago, after a discussion of an unorthodox picture by Jean-Luc Godard, a protesting spectator asked: “But, Monsieur Godard, don’t you think that a film should have a beginning, a middle, and an end?”, the filmmaker replied: “Of course it should – but not necessarily in that order!” Bu then Godard is Godard, and director Hess is… well, we’ll have to wait for his subsequent opus-es. Who knows? Jared Hess may become as famous as Rudolph Hess some day.
One relatively positive aspect of the movie is its deglamorization of its people. No sexy people, no beauties, no charmers. But then the film goes overboard in the opposite direction. It is misanthropic. It is suffocating in several ways, and this within its use of open spaces. In fact, Preston looks so claustrophobic that it makes infinitely smaller towns in old western flicks look big. Very peculiar. I wonder how my Idaho relatives will react. (And, by the way, contrary to a couple of reviews I saw, Idaho is NOT in the Midwest!)
The movie does produce some laughs in its audience, but they are mere like Band-Aids on a victim of terrorism. What is extremely odd is the number of high grades given by many (and smart) film critics –while others rate it most negatively.
A few hours after screening this picture I saw again the almost splendid and almost 20-year-old “school movie” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Enough said.