Napoleon Dynamite [2004]

As deadpan comedies go, Napoleon Dynamite stands in a class all its own. Played by John Heder, the title character is (in the words of critic Roger Ebert) "the kind of nerd other nerds avoid," a mouth-breathing dweeb with a mangy nest of orange hair, and ungainly features that suggest a perpetual state of half-conscious depression. He lives in Preston, Idaho (former home of 24-year-old director Jared Hess) with his thrill-seeking grandma and 32-year-old brother, and his days at high school consist mostly of being abused or ignored by indifferent classmates. Napoleon's sad-sack story doesn't offer the scathing, impassioned humor of Welcome to the Dollhouse because Hess (who cowrote the nearly plotless screenplay with his wife, Jerusha) doesn't have an angst-ridden axe to grind. Instead, the comedy (which exists in a tacky universe of worn-out rural suburbia) is so low-key that some will find it difficult to laugh, while others (i.e., those who feel superior to Napoleon) will have plenty of fun at Napoleon's expense. The result is a curiously uneven film, hilarious at times, but hampered by its own sense of affectionate mockery. An audience favorite at the Sundance film festival, Napoleon Dynamite may not be entirely lovable, but it's definitely unique. --Jeff Shannon

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