Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Rating: B

Dir: Jared Hess
Star: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Tina Majorino

At one point in Napoleon, a character is bowling – though he’s an adult, he’s got the bumpers on the side of the lane down. His woefully misdirected ball slowly bounces off the guardrails four times before finally nailing nine pins, at which the bowler pumps his fist in triumph, without any trace of irony. That was the exact scene where this finally clicked, and I “got” the surreal tone it was trying to invoke. For this is a film you either love or hate – but give it a chance, and odds are, it’ll be the former. It might take more than one viewing, if Chris is a reliable sample: first time round, she slammed its idiocy…and days later, was still quoting the dialogue.

Second time around, she appreciated it much better, for this is a genuinely “mad” film. In contrast to the wacky zaniness of, oh, a Jim Carrey comedy, this refuses to recognise its own insanity or play to it, and is all the stronger as a result. The title character (Heder) lives in Idaho, goes to high-school, fails to ask out girls, and has no money. Yet you must grasp that this film is not about what happens; it’s about people, convinced of their normality, who are about as different as they come. Case in point: there’s a llama in his backyard. In Idaho… [Though Hess actually had four growing up!]

For Napoleon’s family is equally odd: his brother speaks without moving his upper lip; uncle Rico sells Tupperware and breast enlargement cream; his grandmother breaks her coccyx while riding a dirt bike. Despite this, Napoleon still feels the need to make stuff up, giving himself ninja skills and summers spent hunting wolverines in Alaska. The dialogue is also primely quotable – “Do the chickens have large talons?” – and it’s probably the first teen movie since the days of Gidgit where the language never goes past PG. It’s a surreal and absurd experience, but one that left me with a smile on my face; truly, the geek shall inherit the earth…