This was in theaters for a full two months before I got off my ass to go see it. I had written it off as yet another unfunny "slacker" comedy and thought it would whimper away quickly. But the thing just kept sticking around, making more and more money (around $44 million when all is said and done – not bad for a movie with a budget of just $400,000) and being quoted left and right by trendy theatergoers. So I finally caved in, accepting it as some sort of cultural mini-phenomenon that I should at least have an informed opinion about. Besides, a friend of mine (Ellen Dubin) has a small role in it, so I figured I owed her one.
One interesting thing Ellen told me beforehand is that, with the exception of herself and a handful of other professional actors (the cast is mostly untrained locals from Preston, Idaho, where the movie was filmed), everybody who worked on Napoleon Dynamite is Mormon, including writer/director Jared Hess and his cowriter wife Jerusha. The filmmakers' religious background may explain why Napoleon Dynamite is probably the most chaste high school comedy made since, perhaps, the 1940s. (They don't even say "God", they say "gosh!")
But is it funny? I guess so, though I don't understand how it got hyped as he most hilarious comedy of the year. At the somewhat sparsely attended matinee I was at, there were some scattered chuckles, but that's it. Maybe it depends on the crowd.
In the end, the Hesses' tale of an overly self-confident teenage geek (Jon Heder, love him or hate him) and his nutty friends and family was not nearly as cloying as I had predicted. Part of this is the nostalgia the movie triggered in me – not so much for my own high school years (though it's refreshing to see actual teens playing high school students, and a dorky character that acts like an actual dork and not like the charming Hollywood version), but for the small town in Idaho where my grandmother lived. Although said town is hundreds of miles from Preston, Idaho is still Idaho, and I miss that barren golden landscape.
Anyway, Napoleon Dynamite is cute in a dumb way. I won't give it much more than that.