Napoleon Dynamite - Midwestern Retro Phenomenon
In 2004, the independent movie, "napolean dynamite", became one of the sleeper hits of the year. Not only has Napoleon Dynamite achieved great financial success, it has left and indelible place in today's popular culture especially among the youngin', the so-called "Generation Yers". For instance, the Internet (today's brain for the Generation Yers) have masses of website devoted the cultural appeal of Napoleon Dynamite. There is a website that can teach you the dancesteps immortalized by Napolean Dynamite; there is a website that calculates what Napoleon Dynamite character you would be based on a questionaire (I apparently am most like Napoleon Dynamite - Frickin Sweet); there is a website dedicated to explaining the various slang and jargons used in Napoleon Dynamite that is becoming en vogue with today’s youth; and there is are countless numbers of fan sites and forums to discuss all things napoleon dynamite!
Napoleon Dynamite was the brainchild of 26 year-old Jared Hess, the writer and director of Napoleon Dynamite. Not to take all the credit, Napoleon Dynamite was also co-written by Jared Hess’ wife, Jerusha. It was during his university days at Brigham Young University, that Jared Hess became friends with John Heder, who would go on to play the lead role of Napoleon Dynamite. The two collaborated with an earlier short film called “Palooka”, with the premise being similar to that of Napoleon Dynamite. Much of the story is inspired by Jared Hess’ own experiences as a native of Preston, Idaho (where Napoleon Dynamite is based) and with his upbringing as a Mormon as a member of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The film was shot in Preston, and since the film, the town has experienced a revival as a tourist destination as throngs of Napoleon Dynamite fans descend upon the streets of Preston and take pictures of the surrounding farms and of course, Preston High School, the central setting for Napoleon Dynamite.
Napoleon Dynamite was made in 2003 by John Hess as an independent movie on a budget of approximately $400,000. Right from the get-go, Napoleon Dynamite became a hit that was fueled by its amazing reception at the all-important Sundance Film Festival. Napoleon Dynamite seemed to pick up more and more steam through critical acclaim and word-of-mouth. To date, the film has grossed over $45 million in box office and DVD sales, making it the one of the most profitable independent movies in history. An interesting tidbit is that on the DVD, an additional scene was implemented showing the wedding of Lafawnda and Kip. Amazingly, the lone scene carried a budget that was greater than the total budget of the entire film!
So if you haven’t seen the movie Napoleon Dynamite yet, you should purely for the sociological and cultural phenomenon this movie has stirred. You may also find yourself being quite entertained by this charming little movie. Without giving too much of the plot away, a major part of the charm is the numerous unique (read: idiosyncratic) characters that weave in and out of this relatively simple story that fantastically highlights the social awkwardness that surrounds life in high school. The characters are complex with their depth being displayed in the wonderful performances given by the actors playing them. It all begins with Napoleon Dynamite, who was exquisitely played by John Heder.
A little bit about the characters
Napoleon Dynamite – One of the most unlikely heroes you’ll see on the big screen. Napoleon Dynamite is a nerd/geek in the most uncomfortable sort of way particularly in the tough life that is high school. He’s got the big hair, big glasses, and glossed-over look that give him the air of cluelessness. The charming thing about Napoleon is that he really doesn’t care what others think of him, as he is quite happy in his own world complete with elaborate but very funny stories (i.e. his favorite animal is the ‘liger’, a cross between a lion and a tiger; he is skilled with the arts of ninjitsu, and the owner of some impressive dance moves).
Deb – Is considered the ‘love interest’ of Napoleon Dynamite, although that term is applied very loosely. Deb is as charming and as socially awkward as Napoleon with her ponytail to the side and her dolly carrying the many boondoggle keychains she sells.
Pedro – Is the new student from Mexico that Napoleon befriends. Pedro is a shy, introverted character that meshes well with Napoleon’s character. One of the movie’s storyline involves Napoleon helping Pedro win over the popular girl in school (baking a cake), as well as trying to win the high school presidency (where Napoleon unleashes his vicious dance skills). “Vote for Pedro” t-shirts became popular merchandise following the release of this movie.
Kip Dynamite - Is Napoleon’s older, and more submissive, brother. Kip is continually chatting online with his Internet girlfriend, LaFawnda.
Uncle Rico – Is Napoleon’s uncle who comes over to stay during the movie to “look after” the household. If there were a villain to the movie, it would be Uncle Rico. Uncle Rico is a man living in the past when he was a high school football hero. He is always showing of his skills such as filming himself throw the football, as well as boasting about his feats like ‘throwing the football over those mountains”.
Rex – Although he was not a central character, Rex’s character and costume was quite memorable. Donning his characteristic USA pants (“Nobody wants to get a roundhouse from these pants”), Rex is a former ultimate fighter who is now the teacher and owner of Rex Kwon Do. His scene demonstrating his martial arts prowess to Kip (as an interested student) is classic.