Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

Rated PG Our content rating: V-2; L-4; S/N-4.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
Psalm 22:6-7

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders….
Colossians 4:5a

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
Luke 6:21-22

Napoleon Dynamite

Do you remember those awkward and cl umsy days of adolescence? Napoleon Dynamite is a film about that awkwardness taken to the nth degree. In fact, the film itself is an awkward film; its pacing, its editing, even the acting feels awkward. Very little about the movie involves the typical conventions of film in the 21st century. There are no stunning action sequences or intense love stories. There are no dazzling special effects and no high-tech camera work. Much of the film lacks any kind of musical score. In the opening credits, words on a plate written with ketchup or mayonnaise take the place of flashy 3D computer-generated opening graphics. All of these elements are both refreshing and awkward at the same time, drawing the audience in and helping it to identify with the film’s main character, Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder).

Napoleon Dynamite is also a story about what it’s like to be on the outside. The story follows the fairly average life of Napoleon Dynamite a geeky, gawky high schooler who lacks tact, grace, and, most importantly, skills—any kind of skills.

Napoleon is angry, frustrated, and dissatisfied with life. He’s tired—almost numb—to the constant harassment and the daily body slams he gets in the school hallway. As a result, he invents a life in which he is a martial arts expert, a wild game hunter, and an all-around tough-guy. No one believes him, of course, making him even more the object of ridicule.

Napoleon, however, is not the only outcast in this movie. In fact, every major character is in some way an outsider. Napoleon’s equally nerdy 32-year-old brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell)—a skinny, little man with a thin mustache and thick glasses—schedules his life around his daily chat room appointments, believing that these online dates are leading to a “serious relationship”. Amazingly, Kip’s expectations are fulfilled!

Napoleon’s Uncle Rick (Jon Gries), is a washed-up high school football player who lives in his past, spending his time reenacting his quarterback days in front of a home video camera. He wants nothing more than to go back in time (literally) and replay the “big game” so that his team might win the championship and he can become all-star. Rick believes that if he had played in that game, his team would have won and his life would have turned out differently. Instead, Rick ekes out a meager living (he lives in his van) by selling whatever whatchamacallit he thinks will be the next get-rich-quick solution.

Napoleon’s new friend, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), is also an outsider, having just moved to Idaho from Mexico. But Pedro doesn’t quite have the same hang-ups that Napoleon, Kip, and Rick have. Pedro isn’t afraid to ask Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff), the most popular girl in school, out to the dance—even though he does end up getting shot down by her. Neither is Pedro afraid to run for class president against the same Summer Wheatley.

But when Pedro’s nerves do fail him at the student election assembly, Napoleon steps up to the plate for Pedro. Since Pedro doesn’t have a skit prepared to follow his campaign speech, Napoleon takes the stage and discovers a place in which he is in control and unruffled. In this place, he is not awkward, he is not an outsider, and he does have skills. In that moment, the universe comes into alignment for Napoleon Dynamite.

Napoleon Dynamite asks the audience to consider its own awkwardness, its own feelings of being on the outside. What is it that makes us feel like outsiders? When do we feel awkward? And what is that one thing that for each of us brings the universe back into alignment, even if only for a few short moments?

Reviewed by Markus Watson, Assoc. Pastor at Union Presb. Ch, Union, KY