Napoleon Dynamite - Mindlessly Intelligent
| I am often criticized for not embracing the work of film makers like the Farrelly Brothers or films like American Pie and Scary Movie. People say that I ďshouldnít take it so seriouslyĒ or that I ďanalyze it too muchĒ. In reality I am responding to the fact that these movies arenít really that funny.
Instead of creating humor, these movies make people laugh by making them feel uncomfortable, not uncomfortable enough to be challenged or moved, just uncomfortable in a safe way so audiences can look at the jerks on the screen and feel superior about themselves. It works very much like the appeal of so-called ďrealityĒ TV.
However, itís not the lack of true humor in todayís comedies that is the most upsetting; itís the way they talk down to their audience. They assume a low level of intelligence and a limited understanding of life thereby getting away with insulting, surface level jokes that are almost immediately disposable. Generations from now no one will be watching these movies with any sense of nostalgia.
Yet adolescence is a period of our lives that should be ripe with humor. We have all been there and we can all relate to the madness. So why canít film makers capture that experience in any real way? Why is it that even teen melodramas are crafted in a way that does not respects their subjects? Why canít film makers remember what itís really like to be a teenager? Well, someone has. Someone has made a movie that all those stupid teen flicks wish they could be. This little, awkward film is called Napoleon Dynamite.
Jared Hess has created a loving and scathing portrait of high school that shocks us with true wit and insight. However, this is no highbrow exercise; the jokes shoot from the hip and drop on us like bombs. These film makers know that high school is an absurd experience and deserves absurd description, but that absurdity doesnít have to be shallow and weak. Instead it can be inspired, just like Napoleon Dynamite.
A plot summary just wouldnít do this film justice. If you havenít already seen it, all you need to know going in is you will be following the adventures of socially challenged adolescents trying to survive the suburban high school experience. Napoleon and his friends are exceptionally maladapted, a projection of every teenagerís self-image. While the filmís subjects seem extreme, anyone who has felt clumsy or confused will relate to their plight. They revel in their unique mediocrity and the film allows the audience to embrace it as well. There are no apologies in this story. Itís a celebration of those things that make us weird.
No character is let off without exposing their pathetic qualities and it is those qualities that endear us to our heroes. While Napoleonís characteristics are aggressively annoying, he is undoubtedly the sympathetic hero of this fable. In the end his unique brand of ludicrousness saves the day.
But this isnít limited to him. The audience has plenty of irritatingly splendid characters to root for, each one more brilliantly and severely flawed than the last. Napoleon Dynamite is a parade of wackos that makes you want to join in the fun.
There are no limits and there is no message. This is just a snapshot into a familiar and comforting absurdity that gives us genuine laughs. It shows us that escapist, light humour doesnít have to be insultingly dumb. We can have a mindlessly good time at the movies without having to check our minds at the door.