Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Obscure Movie Review of the Day: Napoleon Dynamite

If you haven't heard of this out-of-the-mainstream film, it was all the rage at Sundance last year, and since it found wide distribution, it's been earning more and more money every week, as word of mouth spreads about this indie comedy. It's a revisiting of Peluca, a short film the director made a couple years back.

If you have heard about it, you've probably been told that as long as you don't go in expecting anything, you'll have a good time. By anything, these people meant such normal movie features as conflict and plot. If you really, really think you would miss those, you may want to stay away from this movie.

What's left after those are gone? Characters. To call them "quirky" would be a cliche and a disservice. They are actually very, very real. A big part of the humor comes from knowing that, no matter how inane the screen antics get, you still know that guy, you still have seen people really do that.

Set in a tiny backwater town in Idaho, the film centers around Napoleon Dynamite, a geek-to-the core, obsessed with magic and developing "skills"--skills like (I'm sure you've seen the ad) nunchuck skills, cage-fighting skills . . . He uses phrases like "flippin'" and "Lucky!" and, if he's really angry, "Retarded!" or "Gosh!"

The director captures the true essence of geekiness. From the slap fights that are, in the fighters' mind, really cage-fighting level combat, to the crude drawings that are, in the artist's mind, true works of art, Jared Hess strings together here what feels more like a series of very funny vingettes than a slick Hollywood film.

So don't expect to see the bullies get their come-uppance with pudding dropped down their fronts, or any of the other normal formula teen movie staples. Do expect to laugh. And, I'm sorry to say, probably relate.

And don't forget to stick around after the credits for an additional 5 minute scene added after the film went into wide release. At least in the showing we went to, it looked like it had been spliced onto the end by a five-year-old with some scotch tape, but it was there, and it was funny.

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