Having one of the best freakin’ names in cinema history, Napoleon Dynamite, played brilliantly by Jon Heder, is the bullied oddball who became a cult icon after he appeared in cinemas back in 2004. After its unprecedented popularity in the handful of theatres that originally screened it in the U.S., Napoleon Dynamite went on to gross over $40,000,000. Gosh!
In the midst of a barrage of wonderfully strange characters (including a grandmother who loves her pet llama Tina more than her grandchildren, an older brother who spends his time talking to ‘babes’ on the web and an uncle intent on breaking into the heady world of door-to-door sales) stands Napoleon who spends his days playing solitary tetherball and drawing magical creatures (as well perfecting the shading on worryingly bad drawings of girls he likes). Capturing the awkwardness of teenage life and cyphering it into a single character, writers Jared and Jerusha Hess have produced a film that is both captivating and amusing. Most cleverly of all they create a world where such a strange adolescent is almost revered – a true underdog story, Napoleon Dynamite embraces rather than alienates an otherwise socially inept individual.
When Napoleon befriends newcomer Pedro (Efren Ramirez) they embark on a quest to make him class president (cue cult Vote For Pedro Tees) with the help of Deb, a kind-hearted (Tina Majorino), if a little fashion confused, class mate. The film darts from one strange occurrence to the next with quirky and imaginative verve; Napoleon finds himself landing a job on a chicken farm (posing the immortal question – do chickens have large talons?) as well as dancing to Jamiroqui’s ‘Canned Heat’ in front of the entire school. Thanks to his prowess at nailing geek-chic, Jon Heder has never quite managed to recapture the brilliance of his performance here.
Opening with an ingenious credits montage made of foods that appear later in the film (a montage that was made eight months after the film was completed and required its very own hand model), Napoleon Dynamite features fan-friendly quotes that will no doubt help maintain its cult status. As well as this enduring feature the film will see an animated spin-off debut later in 2011. Sweet.
Best line: Napoleon: ‘My lips hurt real bad!’
Best performance: Jon Heder as Napoleon.
Best drawing: Trisha (see up and right).
Jon Heder, who was 27 at the time, was paid just $1,000 for his role.