Making the Grades
Quirky may be the best word to describe Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder). There's certainly nothing conformist about the Preston, Idaho high school student with the curly red Afro, oversized glasses and moon boot footwear. But his peculiarities go beyond his looks.
Napoleon is different because he's on the fringe of the social circle, yet he doesn't seem to mind. Unlike so many teens who'd do anything to fit in, Napoleon seems casually comfortable with where he is. And that's what makes him, above anything else, interesting to watch.
Whether Napoleon's unconventional habits are the result of his genetics or environment, it's hard to know. He lives with his grandmother (Sandy Martin) who has a pet llama and goes four wheeling. He also lives with his nerdy, 31-year-old unemployed brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) who spends hours in chat rooms searching for a woman. Later, the boys' Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) moves in as well.
Rico is one of those guys who may have graduated from high school but never really left it. He relishes his past glory days on the football field and still considers himself a buff young buck. As a door-to-door salesman, he has a rather adolescent enthusiasm for selling bust enhancing supplements.
Trying to avoid his uncle, Napoleon hangs out with his friends, Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and Deb (Tina Majorino), the neighbor girl who's earning money for college by selling beaded key chains and shooting ?glamour? portraits in her homemade studio.
Deciding they have nothing to lose, Napoleon and Deb agree to help Pedro when he decides to run for student body president against the popular Summer Wheatley (Haylie Duff). Surprisingly, it's Napoleon's unabashed eccentricity that proves to be a pivotal turning point in the campaign.
The biggest challenge with this film is knowing whether to laugh with Napoleon, or at him. Often bullied at school and teased at home, he has experiences most of us can relate to. However, his behaviors are just odd enough to make one nervous about siding with him. Whether it helps young viewers be more sympathetic to others or not remains to be seen. For family viewing, some mild innuendo and an emphatic substitute for swearing are likely the biggest beefs parents will have.
Meanwhile, for those of us who grew up in small towns where blue FFA jackets and long, bumpy bus rides were more common than bikinis and surfboards, it's refreshing to see a familiar high school atmosphere portrayed.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Napoleon Dynamite.
Set in Preston, Idaho rather than Southern California, how does the portrayal of high school differ from many other movies? Are there characters you relate to in this film?
Pedro makes a pinata of Summer Wheatley during the election. How does this cultural tradition cause him problems? Can a lack of understanding or appreciation for others customs create unnecessary difficulties?
Napoleon and Pedro are members of the FFA. Learn more about this organization for youth that helps promote leadership and agricultural education.