Thursday, April 1, 2010

Napoleon Dynamite (film)

Napoleon Dynamite. Fox Searchlight, 2004. Directed by Jared Hess and written by Jared and Jerusha Hess.  Rated PG, 94 minutes.

Plot Summary
Napoleon is the king of the anti-heroes in this unconventional high school comedy. He spends his days drawing unicorns and other mythical beasts, fighting with his brother Kip, and avoiding his uncle Rico, a self-defined "football star." When two new friends, Deb and Pedro, enter his life, the three of them start campaigning for Pedro to become the class president. But how can Pedro win, running against the popular Summer?

Critical Evaluation
From the first shot of the opening credits--a plate of tater tots--it's clear this cult classic is an original. It definitely won't appeal to everyone, but this film hits on the reality of high schoolers' treatment of each other in a way that's so real it's sometimes excruciating to watch. Napoleon isn't a likable hero. Orson Scott Card describes the film as a near-documentary--the drab isolation of eastern Idaho from the perspective of people who live there, with everyone in town just getting by. He remarks that "if the person at the pinnacle of the social pyramid needs to work to have spending money, we know we're not in the usual high school comedy" (his review here). But this unconventionality is part of the film's appeal. Recommended.

Reader’s Annotation
Napoleon is a shy loner in Preston, Idaho. When he becomes friends with Deb and Pedro, their campaign to make Pedro the class president gives Napoleon new confidence.

Author Information
Jared and Jerusha Hess are a husband-and-wife team best known for writing and directing the offbeat movies Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. Jared attended Preston High School in Idaho, where much of Napoleon Dynamite was filmed. Jared and Jerusha met while studying film at Brigham Young University. They have a son and daughter and live in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jared says that "The characters of Napoleon Dynamite are inspired largely from people I grew up with in Idaho and especially from my five younger brothers and friends at school. I basically set out to tell the story of the kind of young people who have never really had their stories told - people like that nerdy kid who sat next to you in math drawing mythical animals, the people you never talked to or really got to know" (source). 

Film; high school. Cult classic.

Curriculum Ties
Sociology: bullying, loners

Booktalking Ideas

Reading Level/Interest Age
Grade 7 and up.

Challenge Issues

I included this film because it appears on YALSA's 2010 Fabulous Films for Young Adults list.


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