Napoleon Dynamite shows the hilariously terrifying high-school life of a social outcast with equal parts of raw, firsthand-experienced truth and oddball surrealism. At times, it makes the viewer wonder just what time period or what world the film is actually set in. Much like the work of director Todd Solondz, this debut film from first-time director Jared Hess tricks the audience into laughing at the main character's awkward situations and nerdish dialog about ninjas and dragons one minute, and then shows the harsh reality of the world he is forced to inhabit. Napoleon's (Jon Heder) world is populated with characters who are just as over-the-top peculiar as he is, which, along with its obvious love of early '80s fashion, distances the audience from the film. Perhaps the director intended to not let the audience connect with any of the characters. Perhaps while watching the film, we are to experience exactly what Napoleon feels, as he never opens up to anyone around him and we see all of his missed opportunities pass by. While the film does often seem unfocused, its flaws do not fully weigh it down. It is easy to root for Napoleon during his quest for some kind of emotional connection. Even though the payoff in the film's ending is surprisingly warm and good hearted, it's hard to not wish there was just a little more to grab on to.
by Jason Gibner review