Napoleon Dynamite Jared Hess

Napoleon Dynamite Jared Hess
Napoleon Dynamite is more than a nerd — he's the literal embodiment of the term; he's the eternal nerd. The jocks at his Preston, Idaho school joylessly give him noogies and slam him into his locker as if it was their daily obligation to do so. Napoleon reacts, as real nerds do, with a sense of righteous indignation — he huffs and puffs and kicks at the air in frustration. At home, when his eccentric grandmother asks about his day he responds with a petulant, "It was the worst day of my life, okay?!!" It's business as usual in his world, but he never really seems defeated.

This is the kind of movie that wears its pedigree a little too obviously; Napoleon Dynamite is the love child of Pee Wee Herman and Dawn Wiener from Welcome to the Dollhouse. It's a pretty funny movie but it's also a bit of a robot-baby, written as if by a Sundance savvy "scriptomatic" (insert eccentricity here: Napoleon has a pet lama named Tina!) and is directed by Jared Hess as if he were channelling the deadpan wit of Wes Anderson.

Napoleon Dynamite may be a tad too calculating for its own good, but it has its own pleasures too. Hess has an eye for a good visual joke. Napoleon sketches away like a ten-year-old drawing a creature called a "liger" — a combination of a lion and a tiger "bred for its skills and magic." And there's a soaring tetherball scene at the end that builds to an ecstatic finish.

Along the way the movie hits all the marks that goose our emotions a little as well. There's a prom scene that's kind of touching without being cloying (the song? Alphaville's icky classic "Forever Young"), and there's an assembly scene where a supremely confident Napoleon gets to display his "skills" and win over the hearts of his schoolmates. That's the charm of this movie: Napoleon is an archetypal loser who never once doubts that he's something of a hero and deserves to get the girl in the end. (Fox Searchlight)