Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr As I have often mentioned on this very site, I could be considered a nerd, for I’ve information DC, Image and Marvel and can quote company wide crossover events historical. I am also a snob, in that I look down upon people who merely wear glasses and don’t know the difference between a liger and a tion. But I do have an enormous fondness for my fellow nerds, geeks, dorks, dipwads and dweebs and therein is the difference between me and the people behind the film Napoleon Dynamite (2004). Now, I understand that it’s a cult film and that many of its boringly bizarre sequences were taken from the adolescent experiences of the filmmakers. But that doesn’t change the fact that it holds nothing but contempt for its protagonist and his friends, up until a wholly undeserved Super Happy Redemption Ending ©. And even worse than that, it’s a poorly made film. Yes, it was the debut feature length film from director/cowriter Jared Hess and cowriter Jerusha Hess (who are also spouses). Yes, it was made for reportedly less than $400,000, using the real life Idaho town in which the director had gone to high school in. And yes, yes, yes, deadpan, understatement, all that. But none of that matters if there’s no empathy for the characters, no redemption or real conflict that doesn’t get resolved through a series of unexplained deus ex machine developments. Napoleon Dynamite is a sluggishly paced movie, even by the undemanding standards of episodic indie comedies. For the vast majority of the movie, there’s nothing but ugly, ugly characters being unpleasant to each other, then saying something weird in a flat monotone that’s supposed to draw out a laugh. Even the opening sequence, a series of hideous, drab consumables (calling pasty devilled eggs, transparent burritos and corndogs food is a bit much) is a celebration of mundane ugliness that assumes that recognizing kitsch is a commentary on it. And that’s absolutely not so; that’s essentially like pointing out that a painting has paint on it and calling it art criticism. As a film, Napoleon Dynamite seems to believe that having the eponymous rude, nerdy teenager (Jon Heder) as a protagonist will automatically put an audience on his side. But there’s a difference between a likable protagonist and a grotesque one; the former causes viewers to empathize, while the latter fascinates due to their overtly repellent nature. Napoleon is neither, because we’re expected to find him sympathetic and yet he never behaves in any manner that would elicit that. The rest of the cast is just as bad. While best friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) is a little nicer than the titular hero, he’s frankly a racist caricature. After all, all Latino teens have mustaches, gangbanger cousins and a thick accent (despite that his own sister does not), right? And brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) are just self-deluded oafs. Kip may have a few gentle words after a movie of being a snotty jerk, but only after he’s presumably enjoyed the love of LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery), his internet girlfriend who shows up in the last portion of the movie to fix everything about his life like, I don’t know, some variety of female magical African-American stock character. As for Uncle Rico…well, let’s just say he begins the movie as sleazy moron stuck in his high school years and he ends the movie much the same, but with a broken arm. And when it comes to the mean, attractive cheerleaders who won’t give Napoleon or Pedro the time of day, they lose the high school election and are the only ones not to cheer on Napoleon during the climactic dance sequence. It’s almost as if someone who went to high school in the place in which it was filmed had some resentment towards their time there and took it out on everyone via the medium of cinema. And ah, yes. That famed dance sequence in which Napoleon saves the day by spazzing out to Jamiroquai and wins the election for Pedro, because that’s a thing that happens. That would totally be a feel good moment in which the nerds win over the crowd, except that it completely comes out of nowhere and has no basis in the story that’s thus been told. There’s no indication that his fellow students would be impressed by his supremely awkward dancing; in fact, the whole point of the movie up till that point is the exact opposite. Napoleon has spent the entire movie being bullied and ignored. Why would these same people suddenly switch gears and find his behavior charming. Short answer: they wouldn’t. There’s no narrative reason for it, except to force a happy ending on the film, which is about the definition of lazy writing. In fact, the ending of Napoleon Dynamite is just a series of awesome things happening out of nowhere to make everyone happy through no real effort of their own. Napoleon practices dancing for an afternoon and then is so fantastic at it that he can sway people that have held him in contempt for years. Footloose at least used a montage for that. Pedro wins the election and has a huge party. Rico’s estranged girlfriend mysteriously shows up. Kip is now a pimp, apparently. But up until that ending, the film is nothing but a parade of ugliness. For some reason, the Hesses made a film that ostensibly treats the outsider as the protagonist, but then makes him the worst tempered, most dimwitted character out of a cast of unlikable jerks. Teenage life is rough and teenagers are the worst, but that doesn’t mean that there can’t even be a modicum of empathy for them, instead of displaying their most awful characteristics and expecting us to laugh at them. Napoleon Dynamite isn’t a movie that treats its nerds with any respect. It’s a movie that lets people off the hook for continuing to mock them.