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Heroes of the Zeroes: Napoleon Dynamite

by on July 31, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Napoleon Dynamite”
Rated PG
2004

“Napoleon Dynamite’s” heartiest laugh doesn’t come from Napoleon’s moon-booted dance, meek brother Kip’s gangsta-grill makeover or uncle Rico’s failed attempt to travel through time.

There’s ample reason to praise the wackiness of Jared Hess’s 2004 comedy about miserable Idahoans. But “Napoleon’s” best bit is simple, painfully realistic and one of the Zeroes’ best reaction shots.

While student-body president shoo-in Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff) blathers on about benefits for her friends, Hess shows us a nameless boy for whom Summer will, at best, offer nothing and, at worst, make school more miserable. He’s bespectacled, overweight and silent. What can he do? He’s got no voice here.

That’s why Napoleon’s climactic spaz-out dance is more than a goofy gag. It’s a payoff to a great buddy-system comedy and reason to give this other kid hope — a risky self-expression meant to resolve one major misunderstanding and prop up pal Pedro’s (Efren Ramirez) flagging student-body president campaign.

Like John Hughes’ characters, Pedro, Napoleon (Jon Heder) and Deb (Tina Majorino) are misfits, not losers, and their quest for jobs, girlfriends or independence differs little from their ’80s peers apart from Hess’s strange, skewed sensibilities.

As for adult partners in pathos, Rico (Jonathan Gries) is a sympathetic villain forcing company with his misery and Kip (Aaron Ruell) learns that technology might not make one happy, but it can lead to happiness, always and forever.

Hidden beneath “Napoleon’s” humor is a heartfelt message that it’s not high school’s dreams and regrets that last, it’s the sometimes-bizarre friendships.

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