Viking Night: Napoleon Dynamite

By Bruce Hall

January 31, 2012

This high school doesn't need a Karl Rove.

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Let's play a game. We're going to pretend that the entire entertainment landscape is a wild after dinner party at Charlie Sheen's house. You and I are hanging out in the basement nursing vodka and Red Bull, trying to hear each other over the sick House beats when we see someone sitting alone in the corner. You ask me who it is, and I tell you that it's Napoleon Dynamite. I don't know why he's here. Everyone liked him when he first showed up because he said he was here with Carmen Electra, once built his own time machine and was really good with a crossbow. It all turned out to be lies, but he's still here because he won a bunch of independent film awards and nobody wants to look like they're not hip to that.

That's almost as bad as not recycling, or eating red meat.

So all these years after its release, a really bad movie continues to languish in some pop culture quarters, like an untreated rash, or a really old pet that's too sick to live but still refuses to die. Fox even attempted to resurrect the short lived phenomenon with an ill-fated animated series that will probably have been cancelled by the time you read this. Napoleon Dynamite survives for the same reason Ayn Rand still gets read. Because it's considered trendy by certain people, even if none of them can tell you why.

I know I sure can't, but I'm going to spend the next thousand words or so trying to figure it out.


Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) has a ridiculous name to go with his ridiculous game. He's a laconic high school student who would, in short, be quite at home with the Dungeons and Dragons/World of Warcraft/Magic the Gathering crowd. That is, if he were imaginative enough to be good at D&D, had enough money for a computer and wasn't too lazy to play a card game designed for ten-year-olds. Rather than study, make friends or learn how to do...anything...Napoleon is content to daydream, draw pictures of unicorns, and declare himself a de facto expert on pretty much everything in the universe.

He's tall, lanky, awkward and uncoordinated. He wears Teri Garr's old glasses. He dresses like he has a head injury, he never closes his mouth, and he has art Garfunkel hair. He brags like Chad Ochocinco but sounds like Steven Wright when he does it. When he gets irritated his breath comes out in a labored sighs that sounds a lot like a death rattle. He has a girlfriend who is a super hot model but you can't meet her because she lives out of state and doesn't have a phone so there's no way to contact her. So, naturally, nobody likes him.

This includes his peculiar, somewhat gender neutral grandmother (Sandy Martin). Napoleon lives with her and his significantly older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell). And when I say "significantly older," I mean "old enough that he should have gotten a job and moved out of the house ten years ago" older. He has an Internet girlfriend and dreams of being a cage fighter, despite being built like a half cooked fettuccine noodle. They all live in an aging split level home in Preston, Idaho, where an aging split level home decorated with plastic plants, shag carpet, wobbly fixtures and Glamour Shots everywhere is apparently considered high living.

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