To appreciate "Napoleon Dynamite," you cannot expect to enjoy an hour and a half of sheer entertainment. Instead, you must be willing to absorb it, chew on it for a while, swallow, and wait for the aftertaste. You must be willing to examine why there are so many awkward pauses, why the most touching scene involves a tetherball game, why the soundtrack resembles an antiquated version of Super Mario Brothers and why the director gives such a huge role to the normally overlooked tater tot.
The "hero" of the film is the title character (Jon Heder), an idiosyncratic high school student from rural Idaho. Napoleon, armed with arsenal of catch phrases and an uncanny tendency to accent certain unstressed syllables, carries on an awkward existence at Preston High. His socially inept behavior is, in fact, not that absurd when placed in the context of his surroundings.
Napoleon lives at home with his 30-year-old unemployed brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), pet llama Tina and his quad runner-riding grandmother. His best friend is a monosyllabic Mexican immigrant named Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and his love interest is boondoggle-peddling Deb (Tina Majorino). The entrance of Napoleon's Uncle Rico, a former football star living out of his Dodge Santana, marks the beginning of utter chaos in the loose plot.
The actual storyline of "Napoleon" is virtually inconsequential. Director Jared Hess's greatest accomplishment lies in the creation of an overall mood of unease. Does it really make sense that Kip marries the mysterious LaFawnda, whom he met online? Does it make sense that Pedro shaves his head in an attempt to cool off? Absolutely not. The jerkiness and inconsistencies in the plot parallel the jerkiness and inconsistencies of adolescent life.
Perhaps the overall effect of this movie is best captured in one of Napoleon's own drawings. The liger, a mix between a lion and a tiger, is somewhat unsettling at first glance but upon closer examination, one realizes its refreshing uniqueness and comes to appreciate the sheer creativity that went into its conception.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.