Monday, October 19, 2009

Napoleon Dynamite

While I was at Target the other day, they had movies at sale prices ranging from $5 to $10. Although they offered a number of classic (or what I would consider classic) films including American Psycho, Silence of the Lambs, The Talented Mr. Ripley and Full Metal Jacket, I decided to purchase Napoleon Dynamite. While this movie may not have the same level of drama or plot development as the others, it is still one of my all-time favorites. This is because of the humor, the scenery and the overall spirit of the movie.

As a fan of awkward humor and quirky characters (The Office is one of my favorite T.V. shows), Napoleon Dynamite makes me laugh out loud every time I watch it. The combination of plausible situations and unusual outcomes is something that's extremely funny to me, and the minimal use of outlandish gags and complicated set-ups helps give the jokes a more natural and believable feel. Another aspect which I found entertaining was the dry, emotionless delivery of many of the characters. Whereas many comedies rely on over-the-top, energetic acting, it seems like Napoleon Dynamite took a more subtle, minimalist approach in terms of acting. the slow, monotone voices of characters like Napoleon, Kip and Pedro added an extra level of humor to their unusual lines. As cliche as it sounds, sometimes, less is more.

Although the acting took a backseat, the backdrop of the movie played a major role. Maybe it's because I'm from a state with lots of people, buildings and trees, but the scenery in Napoleon Dynamite is one of my favorite aspects of the movie. Almost every outdoor shot is against a background of mountains and farmland. The vast expanses that Napoleon's world are both bizarre and oddly comforting. Perhaps it's a result of playing too much "Oregon Trail" (I always died trying to fjord the river) as a child or maybe it represents some sort of natural rejection of the pressures and crowded feelings of urban life today. Regardless of the reason, the plains and mountains of Idaho are appealing to me, and I feel that such a unique location is the perfect setting for Napoleon Dynamite's cast of quirky characters to reside.

Lastly, I enjoy Napoleon Dynamite because of the overall feel of the movie. The film has a 1980's to mid 1990's vibe to it. This is present in subtle ways which include the music selection, the use of VHS and cassette tapes and some of the clothing choices. Other aspects of the film even provoke comparisons to 1980's teen movies. However, the humor and lack of overused plot conventions keeps the film from feeling campy and predictable. This ability to create endearing characters and an interesting story without resorting to trite plot choices and cliches was something that I particularly enjoyed. In movies today, it's become a sure thing that there will be a makeout and/or sex scene, a bold (and cheesy) display of affection, jealousy between friends over someone that they both have feelings for and a serious event that causes the main character to rethink his or her views. Napoleon Dynamite is able to still be a great film without an awkward love triangle between Napoleon, Deb and Pedro or Napoleon dedicating his dance performance to Deb in order to regain her friendship. Furthermore, even without all of these things, Napoleon and Deb mysteriously make up, and all of the main characters (even Uncle Rico) find some sort of happiness by the end.

Ultimately, Napoleon Dynamite may not have riveting monologues or extravagant special effects, but it still should not be written off as generic teen comedy or a sign that film as an art form is dead. For a movie that was made without profanity, sex, generic plot conventions, a large budget or a fancy Hollywood studio set, I think that it's pretty damn good, and I laugh every time I watch it... but that's to be expected. What the heck would you do in that situation?... gosh!

In honor of Napoleon Dynamite, here's one of my favorite scenes:

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