From the rural town of Preston, Idaho, comes Napoleon Dynamite. With a red 'fro, his moon boots and illegal government ninja moves, he is a new kind of hero. His family consists of fragile brother Kip, who's seeking his soul mate in online chat rooms; Uncle Rico, who is stuck in his "glory" days of high school football; and Grandma, who enjoys going out to the dunes on her quad-runner. Napoleon spends his days drawing magical beasts, working on his computer hacking skills to impress the chicks, and begrudgingly feeding his grandma's pet llama. When his friend Pedro decides to run for class president, it is Napoleon to the rescue to help him triumph over adversity.
The title character of Jared Hess's willfully odd, often amusing debut feature is a high-school misfit in Preston, Idaho, Mr. Hess's hometown. The director has a fine sense of place and regards the quirks and delusions of this remote rural town with a native's mixture of affection and impatience. The film, written by Mr. Hess, a 24-year-old former student at Brigham Young University, and his 23-year-old wife, Jerusha, works best as a series of deadpan visual and verbal gags. Even the trained actors in the cast perform with the hesitant, awkward opacity of non-professionals, and their awkwardness is clearly, for Mr. Hess, a sign of authenticity. His own considerable talent could use a bit more polish. There are some dull stretches, and the fairy-tale ending does not seem entirely earned. But the picture's confidence in its own uniqueness — a quality it shares with its hero — is undeniably refreshing. — A. O. Scott
2004-06-11 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Napoleon Dynamite