So...I attended a screening of Napoleon Dynamite this evening. Like a Michael Moore film or a Wilco album or the newest version of iTunes, Napoleon Dynamite is the kind of cultural event that people living in the cyber shire anticipate with wild excitement, often to the point of pre-approving it without evaluation. It's kind of like when Ronald Reagan died. (An event that affected many americans, but perhaps none more than Rappin' Ronny.) The obituary was already written long ago, the half-hour History Channel retrospective was already in the can. They were just waiting for the call. With Napoleon Dynamite, the posts containing exultant reviews were already pre-written in the heads of many bloggers. (I think that recent "rally" where photographers jumped on a subway train and snapped pictures of people snapping pictures to protest the photo ban on subways had a similar fate. It was like bloggers decided to protest a slow blogging day by fashioning an event they could successfully link up. POST-MODERN!)
I am somewhat guilty of the crime of which I speak. I saw the trailer for Napoleon Dynamite a while back and thought to myself, "Finally...a movie for ME." And when the lights dimmed in the theater this evening, it was with great excitement that I clutched the stranger sitting next to me and stage-whispered in his ear, "I'm totally blogging the sperms out of this, dude!" Similarly, a lot of people in the screening seemed to laugh at moments before they actually happened, as they were savvy enough to expect a great joke right around the corner.
The movie was fun. It was, at many moments, funny. (which some would say is all that matters in a comedy, and that's fine for them.) It's also inventive and I would even say it's quotable if the funniest lines weren't already a string of extremely dumb things every angry 15 year-old dork hasn't already said, verbatim. It also has no shortage of style. (the opening titles sequence is pretty excellent.) But, ultimately, I found it sort of unsatisfying. The movie never gets into the "why" of any of the characters, which kept me from really loving the film. I don't think it's is the most eloquent way of expressing what bothered me, but it's late at night and I'm a little drunk, so I'm just going to use this analogy. You know how some people are really good at collecting cool things, whether they're actual objects – like a neat record collection or a vintage wind-up racist toy – or bits of information – like knowing the name of the guy who directed Rat Pfink a Boo Boo right off the top of their heads – or just sort of personal connections – like being on the guest list for a party thrown by Mass Appeal magazine or knowing some guy who runs a Chicago Noise record label or the bass player from Interpol? And, surrounded by all of that neat stuff, you might actually be fooled for a second into believing the person in possession of all of it is actually cool? But, really, that person is just a collector and that stuff is just a constantly unspooling list – a distraction from an otherwise obvious lack of substance?
Well, that's how Napoleon Dynamite felt after my initial flush wore off. It gets a lot of fun details right – like the timber wolf decal on his t-shirt and his uncle's mustache, or the mention of nunchuks and the presence of a sai dagger. (Which really isn't so cool anyway, since they're common knowledge to any kid who grew up playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys. But, in the end, the movie sort of cheats reaching for emotional depth by substituting it with clever, well-composed visuals. Maybe it's a sign of the director's youth, but the movie might be the first film I've seen that's "in the style of Wes Anderson." And just like the films that were in the style of Quentin Tarantino, it's still pretty entertaining but it feels sort of like a pale imitation of the original. Blog that.