Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Dynamite Is Kind Of A Dud

Okay, I'm firmly in the half of Napoleon Dynamite's audience that thinks 'WTF?'.

On paper, I should like this movie, or at least see the merit in it. It is unconventional and weird. It has an outsider/marginalised hero. The humor is, um, unusual. Its chock-full of quotables and lexicon nominees.

But I feel like a total mainstream lamer fuck. I just don't get it. I mean I feel all the things that fans of the film feel apparently... but only for about ten minutes. After that, it just doesn't keep up even a minimum effort to entertain. Its almost bad-documentary dry (or as boosters like to say 'subtle'). After those ten minutes you've met almost all the characters. Seen them be incredibly awkward (frequently making you the viewer uncomfortable), and then you (at least I) am expecting these characters to be put through some ordeal, be it fish-out-of-water scenario or rise-past-limitations/expectations story. But that never happens. The whole film is just a slice of life for weird Idaho-ans. I guess the arrival of Uncle Rico is supposed to be the world-shift challenge that Napolean and company meet, but everything comes off like they'd just find something else to behave exactly the same way about whether Rico was there or not.

I thought the funniest character (in the conventional sense) in almost every way was Rex, the martial arts instructor, who coincidentally is played by the only veteran comic actor in the film, Diedrich Bader, the mulleted neighbor in Office Space. He isn't the ONLY funny thing about the movie, but he really had me fooled at the beginning that this film was going to be entertaining. That was a bad assumption on my part. Rex is NOT the only funny thing but the real laughs are so few and far between. The payoff in Napolean's dance scene is pretty awesome, but really doesn't make up for all the tedium in getting to it.

The film made the interesting and effective choice of looking like it is firmly set in the 70s, yet with the 80s cassette audio tapes and VHS video tapes being the common media in use... and that set alongside the concept of the internet and chat rooms. So if nothing else the look of the film is as odd as the characters. And I'll say this; wow, what a transformation for Napolean, Kip, and Deb. Holy shit, they look almost nothing like their real selves. Jon Heder (Napolean) in particular, just dis-afucking-pears.

Anyway. I feel so totally un-hip, but I just can't bring myself to like it. I still can't really figure out why it was made... what the point of it is. Maybe it's some delayed action thingie that'll strike me when I'm out riding a bike or taking a shower. You'd think with all the shirts, quotes, and paraphernalia that have been swirling about since its release, that even a dense old shit like myself would be in on the joke.

Maybe my kids should watch it then they can explain it to me.


  1. Pasted in for DLM, who is having some access issues with Blogger: "I feel pretty much the same way about the film, in that my personal minimum expectations of the term “entertainment” were met only by the brother’s girlfriend, whose name I can’t even remember now, but who was by far the only genuinely human element in the entire movie - BUT ... This is an “audience” film. It makes a complete difference who you see it with - and if you Netflicked it, my guess is you watched it, as I also consume most of my movie entertainment, alone. The one and only time I’ve seen ND was last year at with my niece and her family and that made all the difference. Because she had that line into the humor (and her Dad, my brother, did too, actually), and I had a line to them, the shared experience of ND gave it its meme power; and if you think about most of the fandom, it seems to be meme-ish. I don’t hear a lot of defense in artistic or even plot/characterization terms (setting, sure - but that’s always the least of the plot/char/setting trio) - but you always hear about the humor as it is shared. Quotable lines, in jokes to prove you’ve “been there” with this movie, all that stuff. It’s a test film - test to see if you “get it” - but the thing you’re supposed to get, my sense is, is less the movie itself than the event of sharing it. Are you hitting the “my lips hurt REAL BAD” and “Vote for Pedro” highlights? Check. Then you’re done.

    I would have hated it outright if it hadn’t been for seeing it with the family; but I can definitely understand that seeing this with the right companions is much more the point than seeing IT ... in itself ... is.

    $.02 ...

  2. My response: I'm almost glad I saw this on my own, in a way. I'm not thrilled I wasted my time really, but seeing it alone allows me to judge it strictly on its own merits as entertainment... where of course it utterly fails.

    When the movie was first released, initial viewers likely didn't *know* it was supposed to be seen with a group or understand it being driven by the meme-humor. I guess it probably would be worth watching with a group that 'got it', but I don't know that will actually happen. My kids are probably not quite old enough (or exposed to civilisation enough) to really get the film. And I'm certainly not hanging with a young enough crowd in my off-time.

    I actually alluded to the group/meme-humor thing all through my entry, but didn't catch on that the real-time viewing would actually be enhanced. if experienced in a group... vis a vis the Rocky Horror Phenomenon.