Napoleon Dynamite (2004)
February 28, 2021 6:05 PM - Subscribe

A listless and alienated teenager decides to help his new friend win the class presidency in their small western high school, while he must deal with his bizarre family life back home.

Streaming in the US on Starz.
posted by DirtyOldTown (21 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This never really clicked for me when it came out. But we just watched it with our tween, who favors awkward meme humor and he thought it was the funniest film he'd seen in ages.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:06 PM on February 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I mean, I still don't get this. But a cool twelve year old thinks it's hilarious. Is that the target market? I do not know.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:47 PM on February 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

I have such love for this movie and was surprised it wasn't on Fanfare already! The earnest absurdity just clicked with me immediately, along with the soundtrack. Many quotes have enriched our family dialogue, most prominently "Luckyyyyyyy".
posted by mefireader at 7:52 PM on February 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am an old and this movie became a part of me when he asked, "can I use your guys's phone?" about 3 minutes in. The use of "guys's" is SUCH a specific detail as something we used to say, it jumped out at me instantly, just like later on with Rex Kwon Do using "First off...Second off" to enumerate his philosophy, or the word "stings" for painful.

Perhaps it's because I don't have children that these elements feel so much like they're reaching through time instead of yet another refrain emanating from the youth of today, and so in a lot of ways this movie is my world in 1978-82 crystallized. Even LaFawnduh dropping a tape from another universe into Napoleon's lap is something I have a story to relate to. I simply had never had my youth placed into a movie this perfectly, not the movies I connected to like The Breakfast Club, not Weird Science, not WarGames, but a movie that all these years later connected to me.

It's kind of eerie: I'm not from Idaho, or a small town, or anything rural, but somehow we apparently all had access to some of the same idioms. I was also part of a similar flavor of socially marginal group of Junior High and High Schoolers until I was about 16. This movie is just a golden representation of something I and my friends could identify with, if I still knew where more than two of them were (one in the ground, one the person who recommended the movie to me). One for the ages, I can only imagine the impact it would have had if I'd seen it in 1982.
posted by rhizome at 9:46 PM on February 28, 2021 [12 favorites]

Is that the target market? I do not know.

My nieces who were about that age when the movie came out definitely were. That was such a big movie for them. It is still a weird touchstone for them. I watched it with them so I have a bit of a soft spot for it because of that, especially now that they are old and too cool to hang out with their weird uncle anymore.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:04 PM on February 28, 2021

I guess I was ~33 when I saw this in the theater. I didn't imprint on it, but I thought it was pretty funny, perhaps I am not so socially developed even now. It's merciless, yet gentle. I think it's also an interesting high school movie in that it is wholly unconcerned with conformity.. there is no overwhelming force of normies; they aren't driving the story or the conflicts exactly; the eye of Conformist Sauron has no power out here (c.f. Heathers).. all sort of thanks to Napoleon's like pushback and flat belligerence against it. God and the future don't care, and everyone is free to be dumb, ugly, ridiculous, laughable, pathetic, losers in off-brand Paradise.
posted by fleacircus at 11:20 PM on February 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I remember I went to a special screening at the time; I think they were trying to drum up word-of-mouth support for the film. They were giving out t-shirts at the the end and I got one that said "Give me your (tater) tots." I remember feeling like the shirt was a cop-out. I imagined that there was some corporate type somewhere who didn't want to put the original quote (without "tater") on the shirt because someone who hasn't seen the movie might think the wearer wanted to kidnap your babies. Or something. Anyway, I remember linking the movie because it was earnest and willing to do its thing, damn the audience, in a way that was diametrically opposed to the weaksauce shirt.
posted by The genius who rejected Anno's budget proposal. at 2:41 AM on March 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I was in college when a bunch of us students were invited to a free screening on campus. We all walked out saying “what the hell did we just watch?” We proceeded to repeat quotes from it for the next year.

It just felt so different and weird. I still randomly recall scenes from the movie that make me laugh.

This movie and Garden State are my two standouts from 2004.
posted by like_neon at 4:53 AM on March 1, 2021

It's funny, because I still haven't seen the movie; I just don't feel that strong of a pull to pay for it, even though I might use the free Starz preview through Amazon to get a freebie viewing. But I've seen bits and pieces of it online, and I identify with the Rex Kwon Do scene so hard--the guy who just isn't much of a martial artist, which becomes more obvious the harder he fronts; the kid who goes in thinking that he's going to become a legit tough guy, and is almost immediately bitterly disappointed--that I kind of do want to see it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:23 AM on March 1, 2021

My friend brought this over for me to watch one day when I was feeling sick. It was the perfect sick day viewing. I loved it from the moment I saw the opening credits. "Eat it you stupid llama" is one of the lines my friend who brought the film over still uses from time to time. I prefer referencing my dang quesadillas.
posted by miss-lapin at 8:03 AM on March 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I watched this when it came out.
A year later I took a new job and ended up in Salt Lake City on a business trip.
I was dealing with a committee of teachers from around the state. I was previously a teacher and not entirely comfortable with a corporate education job.
On the first day we went to the room where lunch was being served. Lunch was a spaghetti casserole, tater tots, and salad.
I sat at a table full of people I did not know and under my breath said, "Napoleon, give me some tots."

Everyone at the table immediately perked up and I was queried "Are you a Saint?!"
That was the first time I learned that this was a way to ask if I was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
When they found out that I wasn't a Mormon, they spent the rest of the lunch asking me how I had seen a Mormon movie (they still used the word Mormon back then).
They were amazed that the movie had any traction outside the Mormon Corridor.

They turned me on to the entire concept of Mormon cinema.
I had studied the roots of the religion in college but the modern film genre was an amazing window into the life and culture of the folks with whom I was working.
Napoleon Dynamite is one of those films. It is so steeped in the culture of the Mormon Corridor that some of the jokes hit harder when you are aware of the context.

So . . . tots.
posted by Seamus at 8:38 AM on March 1, 2021 [21 favorites]

This is one of those movies that I found to elicit strong love it/hate it feels about it. Having been a weird teenager is probably why I enjoyed this movie (I have some ND merch somewhere) and some other coworkers, we'd recite lines from the movie with glee. Whereas my old boss who was an older, straight-and-narrow church-going guy, his comment after watching ND was "I don't get it."
posted by Seboshin at 11:10 AM on March 1, 2021

was introduced to this film by a friend who grew up in Idaho. also, rediscovered Tater Tots. I'm 100% Team Pedro!
posted by supermedusa at 11:32 AM on March 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

'go make yourself a damn quesadilllllla' is a favorite line in my household
posted by supermedusa at 11:35 AM on March 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I watched this way after the hype as a 30-something and really shouldn't have like this as much as I did. There is something about the pitch-perfect recreation of how teenagers talk to each other (rather than how they think they talk) that I found both charming and hilarious, and it somehow manages to strike just the right tone of mocking without seeming mean.

On the other hand, one of my friends loathed the film because he thought it was deliberately hurtful towards people like him. Gosh!
posted by AndrewStephens at 1:33 PM on March 1, 2021

this was huge on campus when i was in undergrad in ontario in the early 2000's. a friend of mine hated with a passion though, claiming that "just because you made a bunch of good scenes doesn't mean you made a good movie". interesting point, didn't stop me from enjoying it.
posted by LegallyBread at 2:11 PM on March 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

one of my friends loathed the film because he thought it was deliberately hurtful towards people like him. Gosh!

That's interesting. I have HUGE hypervigilance for negative margin-sploitation and I simply don't see it here. I even don't have much affinity for Real Genius because it feels a bit mean-spirited, so I know a bit of where they're coming from.

I remember having a little argument with someone when we heard about Big Bang Theory before it even aired its first episode, where he took the position that it was elevating nerd culture and giving voice and yadda yadda, whereas I said dude, it's Chuck Lorre, anything nerdy is going to be used either to make someone the butt of a joke or to increase their outsiderness. [Suffice it to say that I still don't find anything of value nerdwise in that show. It's fine as formula sitcom background noise, but other than stuff like Howard going into space (which was still played against him), everything positive in that show occurs despite their talents, not because of them. Napoleon Dynamite is not that.]

I'd say Uncle Rico is the representative for the bully mentality, not to mention the Summer Wheatley crowd, none of whom wind up valorized. it's funny, even the most extreme characters like Rex and Starla, or the farmers, seem to be living on their own terms fairly successfully. Rico just needed to find more customers who just had to have the ship. You could maybe almost say "self-consciousness" is the villain in the movie, particularly in Pedro and Deb.
posted by rhizome at 2:37 PM on March 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

They turned me on to the entire concept of Mormon cinema.

If you're curious for more LDS movies Seamus, and you can track it down, I recommend Plan 10 From Outer Space (if only for Karen Black).
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:44 PM on March 1, 2021

I remember making ironic jokes referencing this movie before I ever knew of it, (along the lines of "skills") and know a fair bit, but have not actually seen it as of yet. Perhaps this thread will inspire. Maybe.
posted by sammyo at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2021

I don't remember where I first saw this, could it have been Channel 4? but I loved it from the start. Even though watching conjures the taste of raw egg wash into your tastebuds like nobody's business the rest of it makes up for that.

I'd read John Heder is Mormon and that's why there's no swearing in the film but had no idea it's part of a whole school of cinema with it's own specific culture as target audience. I hadn't even noticed the no swearing, just a somewhat idiosyncratic approach to everything which translates to oddball appeal. And I loved the innocence of the characters without connecting that at all to any reality outside of the fictional world the film is set in.
posted by glasseyes at 11:37 AM on March 2, 2021 [2 favorites]

I worked in a bike shop for a time, and when I would build a bike for a kid and present it to them, I would recite "you got shocks, pegs....LUCKY." I would also tell them to take it off sweet jumps. In my MTB group, if one of us takes a really low drop or jump someone will say "you got like three feet of air that time".
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:22 AM on March 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

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