June 10, 2004

Napoleon Dynamite

Man, this film is just plain quirky. I realize how silly it is to use such a stuffy word to describe a movie. People who say things are quirky are people who usually don’t understand what they are looking at. But, this film is just that. Napoleon Dynamite is the film equivalent of a song comprised of one note, bland in a middle-american farce of high school life.

First-time director/writer Jared Hess is very much the bastard child of Terry Zwigoff and Wes Anderson. The title character’s name is never explained, and really never needs to be, Hess prefers to let everyone’s two dimensionality shine, pigeon-holed from the start. This isn’t a coming of age story with a ugly duckling moral. Newcomer Jon Heder is brilliant as the anti-hero, Napoleon, who is “probably the best artist he knows of”, a tetherball enthusiast, and the high school’s resident nerd. His dry delivery and awkward stabs at awesomeness are endearing, even if he never really seeks to be accepted. Napoleon is almost completely undeterred by his surroundings and frequent bullyings, preferring to draw what is “probably his favorite animal” (a liger - a cross between a lion and a tiger), learn how to dance from a video he bought at the local thrift store, and help his friend Perdro run for class president. Hess never seeks to have his characters accepted, but merely to be themselves.

Napoleon Dynamite is deadpan personified but has such a heart and sardonic laugh-ability that you can’t help but enjoy it. Vote for Pedro.

What’s more, Fox Searchlight and MTV are really throwing some cash into this for promotion, they gave out free t-shirts at the theater and afterwards they gave out two free passes to everyone who attended to come back and see it again. They told us there were three more free t-shirts to collect, trading cards, a fan club, and even a frequent viewer card, which entitles the owner to some special prize when it gets filled up (after four viewings). Gotta love free swag.

One last bit, Napoleon Dynamite has a wonderful title sequence, bringing in the cast and crew’s names spelled out in condiments on plates of cafeteria food. Brilliant. Perhaps it’s the designer in me (the same one who scrutinizes the type on restaurant menus), but I have been noticing a return to well designed and conceptual title screens in movies. I love you Saul Bass. In the past few years I have noticed some wonderful examples both conceptually and typographically: Monsters Inc, Panic Room (the only good part of this awful film), Catch Me If You Can, High Fidelity, Enemy at the Gates (this is actually for the end credits… which are so damn lovely they are worth the price of the rental alone. Trust me.), and that’s just to name a few. Check out some more great samples over at Shill Pages.

Commentary (7):

1. Todd says… jun 10, 2004 | 10:12 am

Napoleon Dynamite is one movie I’m really looking forward to. The trailer sells it very well.

Like you, I’ve been noticing the return to quality titles lately. Panic Room’s titles were quite striking when I saw the film in the theater. Spider-Man’s titles were a little overdone but set the tone for the rest of the movie (in my opinion).

I would like to see a return to creative movie posters as well. The “big head shot of the stars” design has really gotten old.

2. Peter Santa Maria says… jun 10, 2004 | 4:08 pm

Napoleon Dynamite really is hilarious and awkward black humor at it’s best. The only movie I could compare it to would be that it is like a more teenage male version of Welcome To The Dollhouse.

And I also agree about movie title sequences and movie posters. I would like to see more illustrated movie posters, ala the 50’s sci-fi and horror, and 80’s screwball comedies!

3. Miriam says… jun 10, 2004 | 7:23 pm

Down with Love had a pretty spanky title sequence, too.

4. Rob Weychert says… jun 10, 2004 | 9:12 pm

I’d just like to say that I now have a genuine affection for the adjective “spanky.”

5. bearskinrug says… jun 13, 2004 | 7:27 pm

I always thought Fight Club had a great title sequence. They definitely set the tone for the movie, and dropped you right into the action.

‘Course, that’s a David Fincher movie too. But I thought they were better than Panic Rooms…

6. RJ Hampden says… jun 15, 2004 | 11:33 pm

Man. I just caught the preview while I’m here in New Orleans. What a terrific movie. Certainly in my top five. Every single character was terrific.
The titles were off the charts. I only wish I could have experienced them without the expectation of a wonderful title sequence written in mustard and ketchup.
I will be seeing this movie again.

7. RJ Hampden says… jun 15, 2004 | 11:45 pm

I found out that Elvis Costello is “Sometimes Credited As Napoleon Dynamite” from IMDB.