Saturday, April 26, 2008

Napoleon Dynamite

"Napoleon Dynamite" (Jared Hess, 2004) Speaking of boy-men....(and it's here that I make a mental note that if I'm going to be a part of the national zeitgeist, I need to see a couple Judd Apatow movies. But, hey zeitgeist auditors, does this count?)

At first viewing, "Napoleon Dynamite" can't live up to its reputation as a slacker/sleeper masterpiece. Its pace and pervasive negative energy are mystifying, and it's basic theme of deluded super-ego's aggravating.

On second viewing, though, one looks at the residents of Preston, Idaho with a new perspective--they're all deluded super-ego's, big fish in dried-up ponds floundering to scratch out better lives for themselves. The typical framing gambit for the film--a still-life, middle distant landscape, with a small figure in the center--reinforces it, evoking a humorous response, whenever it happens, and a not-small amount of empathy for the character. Everyone's trapped, in the frame and their lives, but are convinced that they're heroes of their own stories, if not super-heroes. That their big dreams pay off sometimes is testament to the surrealistic power of hope...and pig-ignorance. As aggravating as these characters are, you want them to succeed, and when they do, it's a bit of a miracle.

The movie made the effete Jon Heder a star of limited magnitude, his Napoleon is one of the great film performances--so lived in and thought out, that one wonders what else he could do (slowly but surely he's found other roles), but he may be stuck playing freeze-dried-in-adolescence types for the rest of his natural life.* The movie is full of artless but heartfelt performances so dialed-down that it takes a second viewing to see the work involved.

One comes away with the uplifting feeling that if there's hope for Napoleon Dynamite, there's hope for all of us. Certainly it's a more entertaining and effective illustration of visualization than the film, or book of, "The Secret." How many get pay a lot of money for that, see this for cheap, and vehemently say: "GOSH!"

* Long perverse aside: Somewhere along the way, the idea of Heder appearing in a polar opposite role--"Rambo"--entered my consciousness and stuck like a burr. And it occurred to me that that would be a great strategy for an action film. And, in fact, it has...almost. Remember "Total Recall," (1990) the Philip K. Dick story ("I Can Remember It For You Wholesale") about the average guy who, when taking a "virtual vacation" suddenly discovers he's a killing machine/operative under post-hypnotic suppression? Well, before they stuck Arnold Schwarzenegger's round peg into the round casting hole, the original idea for the role was... square-peg Richard Dreyfuss. Which is a GREAT idea. The guy's just an unassuming mensch, who, on command, and definitely undercover, can wipe out a squad single-handed. The 98-pound weakling who turns into a one-man army.

I tell ya, the fan-boys would be lined up for DAYS!

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