Most films are such old news after a month that it can be truly amazing how "big" the commercial & cultural impact had seemed to be for such brief moments until the Next Big Thing displaces it after scant weeks or days. When a year or more later one still hears kids imitating Napoleon Dynamite & having Napoleon Dynamite pajama parties to watch it yet again on DVD, one has to suspect this film closely touched a nerve of pleasure for pre-teens & youth in America.
That Napoleon achieved this cult status as a small independent feature rather than as a big-budget blockbuster advertised-up-the-ass phonily iconic film like Matrix is very encouraging. Encouraging because a film really can reach an audience & enrich their lives & have broad influence without the commercial engine shoving it at people. Independent cinema matters, imagine that.
Well, I'm an old biddy so I never guessed how much kids were going to relate to this film. I knew that I found it to be truly good natured oddity that had me laughing quite a number of times, so I took it over to friends' house & imposed it on them, & they went right out afterward & bought a copy, as it immediately became one of their "family favorites."
The story is its characters. Napoleon (Jon Heder) with his nearly buck teeth & frizzy hairdo & gawkiness & self-absorption having to cope with his own adolescent interest in girls & with his embarrassing sleezy Uncle Rico (John Gries) trying to sell breast-enhancement equipment to teenage girls; Pedro (Efren Ramirez, the one potentially great actor to come out of this film) suddenly overcome with the desire to destroy his own hair thereafter wearing a bad wig while running for school president; & Deb (Tina Majorino) attempting to break out of her pathological shyness to turn some kind of art, any kind of art, into a successful business. The three kids provide a sense of friendship bridging every eccentricity of character. It is wildly heartwarming & uplifting even as one laughs at their bumpkinish foolish lives.
The world in which Napoleon lives is 95 percent nerds, so there's no sense of him being an outsider or unduly set-upon by the cool world; here, even the cool kids are just nerds in disguise. Napoleon & his friends are raging successes as dorks go, & this is ultimately an upbeat version of the more challenging & subtly horrific Welcome to the Dollhouse (or Dollhouse was the downer version of the cheerfully goofy Napoleon).
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