Starring: Jon Heder, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez
Director: Jared Hess
Running Time: 96 mins
Napoleon Dynamite is an American film following the misadventures of an eccentric teenager, as he struggles with a complex school life and an even stranger home life.
Although it may not look like it from the outside, Napoleon Dynamite is both a very entertaining and very likable movie, taking a small group of deliberately unenergetic and unspectacular characters and putting them on show in a story full of humour and a surprising amount of heart, making for a very enjoyable watch right the way through, even if some of its major running jokes do tire throughout.
There’s a lot to like about this film, but what really took me by surprise was how entertaining and likable the main characters are. At the beginning, Napoleon Dynamite, along with his family and friends, are portrayed as a small bunch of deluded idiots, and the film starts off in entertaining fashion as you laugh at their various misfortunes and failures that feel rather deserved given their confrontational and often arrogant attitudes.
That’s where the comedy is strongest, and throughout the first act, there are some really big laughs as a result. However, as the film goes on, and we see those characters come up against properly arrogant and unlikable adversaries, they prove themselves more and more genuine, and even though they’re not quite the most charismatic personalities, there’s something contagiously likable about them that helps them to really grow on you throughout.
And in that, there are some really heartfelt and uplifting moments that balance the film’s excellent sense of humour with a consistently genuine story that never meets any overly cheesy pitfalls. That’s why I was, come the end, watching with a big smile on my face, something I really didn’t expect at the outset of this film.
Of course, a lot of the lead characters’ likability comes from the very strong performances. Again, it may seem at first that they’re all just being annoying, low-energy losers, but the likes of Jon Heder, Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino do well to balance that comedic element with strong acting that keeps their characters interesting and enjoyable to watch throughout. They won’t have ever been set to be Oscar winners, simply because it’s rather hard to put your finger on quite what is so entertaining about them, but I was really impressed and joyed by all of their turns here.
If there is one complaint that I would have with this film, it’s that the running joke of everything being so ridiculously low-energy and charismatic doesn’t quite hold up for the entire runtime. It’s really funny at first when you’re laughing at the characters, but as the movie goes on, it’s something that proved really tiring for me, failing to keep the laughs consistent throughout. With that said, the story’s more heartfelt and genuine elements break into action towards the end, so it’s less of a problem, but if you’re just here for laughs, then it’s fair to say that this does ultimately run out of steam.
Overall, I had good fun with Napoleon Dynamite. It’s not quite perfect, but it takes a very eccentric premise and makes it work brilliantly, with great humour early on complemented by good heart and very likable characterisation towards the finish, making for a surprisingly enjoyable watch right the way through, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.6.