Cult Classic: Napoleon Dynamite
With llamas, liger and the most listless teenager you've ever met, was Napoleon Dynamite one of the most curious pop culture phenomenons of the past decade?
It’s difficult to pinpoint quite exactly how Napoleon Dynamite managed to recoup its meagre $26 million budget 23 times over.
After all, this was an obscure deadpan comedy centred on the acquired taste of Jon Heder’s performance of the titular character, with everything from ligers to llamas thrown in for good measure.
Despite a mixed critical reception and a very limited initial theatrical release, Jared Hess’ directorial effort went on to become pop culture phenomenon, eventually scoring MTV Movie Award and Teen Choice Awards, a slew of merchandise and quite recently, a tie-in TV show featuring the original stars.
To the unitiated, Napoleon Dynamite takes place in a fairly undetermined time period in Idaho (the clothing suggests the 1980s, yet there are internet and cage fighter references) and on Napolean, his mustachioed brother Kip and of course, their pet llama named Tina.
If anything, the film follows standard high school movie tropes of young love and high school president elections (with ‘Vote Pedro’ t-shirts becoming a generation’s answer to the ‘Save Ferris’ garb of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) yet it reaches its conclusion after an extremely quirky journey.
Admittedly Heder’s antics as Napolean won’t amuse everyone – while we recommend watching the film with at least a circle of inebriated friends rather than alone and sober – yet it was a career-defining performance from the comic.
Aside from Blades of Glory, the actor squandered plenty of his post-Napoleon opportunities, to the point that it’s actually a little depressing to see him lead the recently aired but already cancelled animated series years later.
Due to Heder’s full conviction in taking on the role of Napoleon, however, we’re left with, alongside the likes of Ron Burgundy, one of the best comic creations of the past ten years.
With ‘romantic’ lines such as telling love interest Tina “I see you're drinking 1%. Is that 'cause you think you're fat? 'Cause you're not. You could be drinking whole if you wanted to,” Napoleon is a curious yet lovable character and constantly engaging despite the film’s slow pace.
To be honest, it’s difficult to quote the character too much because the humour relies purely on the listless delivery of Heder; a real lightning-in-a-bottle performance that unfortunately he has since been unable to replicate, even in the seemingly foolproof decision to revisit the character.
Overall, the greatness of Napoleon Dynamite is just as difficult to identify as its eventual success was, even eight years on. It simply works for some audiences to a huge extent and not for others at all – the very definition of a cult classic if you ask us. Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got a llama to feed…
For more cult films, check out the Jameson Cult Film Club.