Napoleon Dynamite

I am probably the last person here to have seen Napoleon Dynamite, but my daughter rented it on Friday, and I saw it twice over the weekend. I am still laughing. This movie has the infectious quality of Monty Python and the Holy Grail that makes it funnier with repeat viewings. And like the Holy Grail, it is very quotable. The funniest scene on first viewing was probably when the busload of children witnessed the shooting of a cow, but I cannot even begin to choose the funniest line. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the video scene quite a bit. Uncle Rico, Kip, and Napoleon are watching a home video of Uncle Rico throwing a football:

Uncle Rico: So what do you think?
Kip: It’s pretty cool, I guess.
Uncle Rico: Ohhhh, man I wish I could go back in time. I’d take state.
Napoleon Dynamite: This is pretty much the worst video ever made.
Kip: Napoleon, like anyone can even know that.

Jeremy has a pretty thorough post on the film way back in June, but I found only a couple of references to it in our comment archives. Of course, Rosalynde may worry that I am lowering Times & Seasons to the level of a teen chat room after her insightful interview with Neil Labute, and Eric may think that I am trying to divert our collective attention from his attempts to have us focus on LDS films for families. But I am willing to face those potential embarrassments because I have a question: has Napoleon Dynamite had a special influence on Mormon teens?

The youth in my ward are just coming around to it, but I had already heard many of the lines before I saw the film. Other than Napoleon’s “Ricks College” t-shirt, the Idaho setting, and the Mormon expletives (“Gosh!” and “frickin'” … or was it “flippin'”? Or both?), I didn’t notice anything uniquely Mormon about this film. Even so, I sort of like the idea that Mormon youth can claim something “hip … almost avant-garde” as a product of their own culture, and I am curious whether Napoleon qualifies for that role.

69 comments for “Napoleon Dynamite

  1. Coincidentally, I too was watching Napoleon Dynamite on Friday night (for the third time). I was visiting a friend whose 7 and 10 year-old sons insisted on playing it on the DVD player and demanded that I watch this or that scene with them as they recited all the lines. I can’t speak for Mormon teens, but at least some of the Mormon pre-teens I know are obsessed with the film.

    One of the best scenes (with some of the best lines) is a deleted scene at the highschool baseball diamond where Napoleon gets into a scuffle with Summer Wheatley’s boyfriend. It’s not to be missed, and the film is worth renting and watching all over again just to catch it.

    Aaron B

  2. The wife and I saw it opening weekend. We were the oldest people in the theater. Everyone else was under 20, I’m sure of it. And being out in Nebraska, I doubt any of them were Mormon. We saw it twice and recommended it to a bunch of the youth in the ward, who promptly saw it 2-3 times. It now rests on our mantle ready for play at any time.

    It is sweet.

  3. My fifteen-year-old Mormon cousin, who lives in Utah County, asked for the movie for Christmas. He claims he has now watched it over 15 times and he has the movie virtually memorized. (Impossible to watch it with him–he says the lines before the actors do.) He says many kids at school have the same fanatacism for the movie. “Sweet!” they now say. “Pedro for President” shirts abound. It is a phenomen in Linden and, I would guess, across the Wasatch front.

    I had assumed there was something uniquely Mormon about this reaction until I talked with people outside the Wasatch front. The Bushmans in NYC said New Yorkers flock to ND because the rural setting and backwards characters represents an alternate reality to the frenetic pace of the urban blacktop (the Kip-LaFonduh match would be a “must-see” for New Yorkers). But the movie seems to transend regional bounds. My Lutheran boss here in Madison says her teenage son and his friends watch the movie constanty. She likes the movie because it is clean.

    I think the ND appeals to teens on many levels. It captures the awkwardness of adolesence and promises victory in the end. Retro happens to be “in” at the moment. Unfortunately, the movie also indulges the adolescent penchant for mocking the underdog, an observation first pointed out to me in A. O. Scott’s rather acerbic review of ND in the New York Times.

  4. Um, not the last person Gordon. I’ve still only seen my younger brothers “do” the movie, which is, alas how I take in most cinema.

    I’m going to repent–instead of Kaimi’s 50 books, I have a goal to see 50 movies this year!

  5. My wife and I watched ND and for most of the film we were both feeling like this was a movie from another planet. I couldn’t quite figure out why these kids were so limp and unable to make eye contact with anyone when they were talking. And LaFaunda or LaFonda was a rather unusual character. At first I thought “she” might be a transvestite.

    The film seemed to lack direction until Pedro began his run for student president against the snotty cheerleader. And the dance scene won us over to the film. Suddenly there was a cause and something to cheer about.

    By the end of the film we were realizing there were a bunch of quotable lines to the film and the second time we saw it we were both laughing a lot more. But this film was a bit of an adjustment.

    I think my favorite line is the romantic “I caught you a delicious sea-bass.” I also liked the excuse for tardiness to the wedding: “Sorry I was late. I was taming you a wild honeymoon stallion.”

  6. I see “Vote for Pedro” T-shirts all over the University of Texas -Austin Campus (i doubt it’s all Mormons wearing those shirts).

    Plus the local institue had a “Napolean Dynamite dance” a few months back.

  7. As for overt LDS references, it is possible that in the scene where Napoleon drops off the portrait of the girl he want to invite to the dance and Uncle Rico is trying to sell tupperware that in the living room of the house there is a painting of the first vision over the couch. That might be my imagination though. The commentary mentions church related topics more directly.

    Orson Scott Card’s review of the film had me worrying that I wouldn’t enjoy it for fear of laughing at the characters in a meanspirited way. However I found that I was laughing at memories myself and the awkwardness of high school and that the film serves as a reminder about the sillyness and painfulness of the time.

    As for the influence on Mormon culture, I noticed when I was in Utah two weeks ago that the Sonic Burger on 8th North in Orem was advertising its combo meal as coming “with tots”.
    Since we are all listing favorite lines, mine is the one involving the shading of the upper lip. My wife loves the scene in which the cow is shot in full view of a busload of kids.

    I thought the post-credits scene was a bit weak. My favorite part was the reaction of LaFonda’s brother.

  8. > …Eric may think that I am trying to divert our collective attention
    > from his attempts to have us focus on LDS films for families.

    Actually, Dave Wolverton mentioned Napoleon Dynamite as an example of more a more kid-friendly film that LDS filmakers are capable of making.

    From a business perspective, consider that Napoleon Dynamite has made more than The Other Side of Heaven, God’s Army, The Book of Mormon Movie, Vol. 1: The Journey, The Work and the Glory, The Singles Ward,
    The Best Two Years, Saints and Soldiers, The R.M., Brigham City, Jack Weyland’s Charly, Pride & Prejudice, The Home Teachers, Baptists at Our Barbecue, Handcart, Out of Step,
    and The Work and the Story combined. In fact, it’s made about $30 million more, or three times as much, as all those films put together. And that’s just counting box office, not DVD sales.

    Just a little food for thought for LDS filmmakers.

  9. Alas, I have arrived too late at the video store the past two weeks, and am still a Napoleon Dynamite virgin.

    In other news, my across the street neighbor is the brother of one of the writers.

  10. Re LDS references: One scene shows the painting “Girl Among the Holly Hocks,” by John Hafen, one of the LDS art missionaries who worked on the Salt Lake Temple murals.

  11. ND showed in some Boston theaters for about 6 months straight. My organ teacher told me his wife tried to give him the DVD for Christmas, but it was sold out in all of the stores she tried.

  12. Oops! Can a moderator please remove my email reference in #12? I seem to have suffered dyslexia filling in the info. (Blame it on the blizzard!) Thanks. :)

  13. I saw it solo (i.e., I was the only person in the theater) at my Chicago-area theater when it first arrived here. The ticket taker had never heard of it, and I had to show him on the board that it really was playing there. But of course I knew about it in advance. The movie must have found an audience here, because it played for a long time before it was finally dropped from the schedule.

    I’ve still only seen it that once in the theater. But one of the lines that sticks out in my mind is ND talking about how girls want boys with *skills*: computer skills, ninja skills, etc. (Query to the sisters: is that really what girls want in a guy?)

    My 18-year old son and his friends have seen it and enjoyed it (as I did), although I wouldn’t say they are in any way obsessed with it.

  14. As someone with a teen brother and sister you make a great point Gordon, I think it is something they can be proud of, and it IS something they ARE proud of. And that is big for a highschooler in a state like Vermont, where the perceptions about Mormons hasn’t seemed to change much in about 150 years or so, or maybe I was just over sensative growing up. Either way, it was a gift for everyone in the family, and it took be 8 different stores to find a copy (everyone was sold out). And it really does get better everytime you watch it.

  15. Mark,

    ND came out on video on Dec. 28th, so it would be hard to buy it for Christmas. That said, I believe they have copious amounts of it at Costco in Everett.

  16. My favorite, because it tell the whole story of my youth : “Six bucks, that’s like a dollar an hour.”

    I love the food references, that huge brick of chedder kip is grating when Napoleon calls him in the first scene. I laughed so hard at that that I thought I was going to puke, and the whole rest of the theatre was silent. But still I couldn’t stop. Those sandwiches and boiled eggs and gaging over the orange juice. Steaks and oranges as weapons. The cold tots in his pants, (have you ever tasted cold tots? yikes!) “eat the ham!”

    Maybe I’m just food obsessed.

    It was pretty much the best movie ever.

  17. Last week when I checked, the “Pedro for President” t-shirts selling on were ranked as the 11th most top selling item in apparel.

    My husband and I keep running into people that quote from and love Napolean Dynamite here in Indiana. Kids/teens/college students seem to love this movie. I was at a Baptist wedding last week and the people I was seated next to were quoting from the movie. The movie was aggressively advertised on Mtv and VH-1 during the summer and that may have got a lot of people to see the movie but a lot of the success has come from world of mouth.

    I grew up in Burley Idaho so the movie has a special place in my heart. I also graduated with several of the cast and crew members of the film. (I know them; most of them wouldn’t have a clue who I was.) I should have studied directing or cinematography but alas, film genres and theory won out. I say, Yay for the BYU film school. It is great that the students and the school can get some recognition.

  18. Rex Kwon Do is also a great bit, though it seems somewhat less genuine than the “make yourself a dang quesadilla”-dialogue scenes. I like shouting “Bow to your sensei!” at young associates at work. I wonder if that will affect my peer review…

  19. I bought my copy of Dec. 21, random John. Wrapped it myself and Santa placed it under the tree for Christmas morning.

    Here at my office in NC there are Those Who Know and Those Who Don’t. TWK walk around spouting random comments like “Your mother goes to college” and “Pedro offers you his protection.” TWD walk around wondering why everyone is suddenly so interested in quesadillllllas and tater tots.

  20. all my law school friends (non-LDS mostly) are big fans. especially my roommate. it’s been very well received by whatever demographic we are (twenty-somethings?) here in New York. also, i was at Foxwoods last weekend and people were quoting Napoleon Dynamit all around the table, even some people a little older. I liked the film and got the DVD for Christmas. I don’t happen to think it’s classic in the same way Happy Gilmore, Fletch, or Office Space are. But it could emerge as a cult favorite like Office Space.

  21. This is the first time I’ve heard about this. Can someone with a source post, or …buy a bunch from Costco, and stick ’em up on Ebay? This IS something my 7 year old could see, isn’t it? I should add that the girl doesn’t climb up me on to my head anymore, to shiver and cry when something scary happens on the big screen; she would in fact deny she ever did that. (At SPIRITED AWAY, in the theater.)

  22. Sorry for the odd sentences in the previous post. I spent the day trying not to speak my bad German while teaching in English in a Spanish-speaking branch. I’m losing it.

  23. Goooosh!

    Chad Too is right, release date is Dec 21st. I don’t know why I had the 28th stuck in my head. Maybe because of Battlestar Galactica (another somewhat LDS flick, but much less so this time around).

  24. I maybe shouldn’t admit it, but I grew up in Preston and my senior year was the only male member of the Happy Hands Sign Language Club, our big finale being ‘The Rose’, just like in the movie. Jared’s (the director’s) mother said, “Oh my gosh, most of the scenes are taken from our family,” Krismas said. “We really had a cow shot in front of our house, and my son James actually called from school three times about getting his chapstick brought to him.”
    Of note, Jared is now working on a 2nd film with Jack Black, being shot in Mexico.

  25. For my birthday a few days after Christmas, my wife and siblings threw me a ND-themed birthday party. Everybody had to dress up as a character in the movie; we ate dang case-o’-dillas and tots, balmed our lips, and even made boondoggles. Good times.

    Before the party I went to D.I. with my wife to buy an uncle rico outfit. I was saddened to discover how much like a regular store D.I. now aspires to be; there was a disappointing dearth of quality vintage wear. Eventually, though, my eyes fell on a beautiful jacket, with a breathtakingly distasteful cut and a collar with so audacious a wingspan the tips literally drooped over my shoulders. “Is that….for your costume?” my wife asked nervously. “I… I don’t even know any more,'” I replied.

  26. I’ll be very interested in the next Hess film. After a few moments of discomfort, feeling that I was participating in a ritual mockery of the pathetic, I thoroughly enjoyed ND. But its strengths were clearly concentrated in character and setting–theme, plot, visual artistry and other aspects of great filmmaking were significantly, uh, downplayed. We’ll see if Hess can work outside the parameters of the his brilliant character creation in Napoleon; I sincerely hope he can, but he’ll have to prove it to me.

  27. I’m usually not much of a spelling and grammar nitpicker, but seeing the title of this thread in the recent comments in the sidebar is driving me crazy — Napoleon, not Napolean.

    You’ll get better Google love if you fix it.

  28. I don’t know why we should expect Napoleon to be spelled correctly. I mean, who ever heard of Napoleon Dynamite before last year?

  29. That may have something to do with why I couldn’t find it. It does take some effort to spell it wrong on purpose on Amazon, Ebay, and Google. ;-) Muchas gracias.

  30. While we’re correcting everyone’s spelling, let me just note that true Napoleon Dynamite connoisseurs would know how to spell “LaFawnda’s” name correctly.

    Aaron B

  31. Oh, I should have noted that the other day one of my University of Wisconsin colleagues, who is a managment professor, observed that “consistency is valued by lawyers.” She said this as if it were a great puzzle.

  32. You’re probably right, anonymous. I was only sure there was a “w” in there…

    Aaron B

  33. Aaron,
    I had actually assumed that Kip had spelled the name wrong, and that was part of the joke. Shows what I know. I have meet people named LaFonda but never LaFawnduh.

    I agree that it will be interesting to see what Jared’s next film is like. It will be hard to top ND, but I don’t know that he has to. Plus, if the above is true and Jack Black is the star of his next film it will be very different. Jack Black isn’t known for the type of low-key acting that made ND. In any case, Jared has already had the achievement of a lifetime: creating a cult classic on your first try.

  34. random John,

    Well it really must be spelled “LaFawnduh”, because Kip has only seen her name in type, while chatting online with babes all day (don’t be jealous).

  35. Here at my SLC lawfirm, it seems like every one of the partners with teenage kids got a copy for Christmas.

  36. Here’s my opportunity to brag that Jon Heder, the guy who plays Napoleon, was my roommate at BYU for a semester. We didn’t become close enough to stay in touch (though we were home teaching companions), but I’m proud of the guy. When I mention my claim to a brush with greatness, people ask me, “Is he really like that?” Answer: Not really. He’s very happy and energetic, and has straight floppy hair. At least he was four years ago.

    Here’s a link to a video clip of Jon reading the Dave Letterman Top Ten list, in his role as Napoleon:

  37. Interesting. I was at a local non-chain indy-ish video store on the Upper West Side on Saturday, and the guy who works there was re-shelving DVDs while a friend and I perused through potential rentals. He came up to me, holding out a a copy of “Napoleon Dynamite” and said “You guys want this? If you don’t take it know it will be gone in two seconds.” I couldn’t decide if we were giving off a Mormon vibe (I don’t think we were) or if he was just being nice. At any rate, it was interesting.

  38. At a family funeral in Weiser, Idaho, back in October, all my Idaho cousins were raving about the movie. They thought it was the best depiction EVER of Idaho life. They were astonished that the movie was a big hit here in Boston, too. My favorite Mormon reference — which made no sense to my wife when I leaned over whispering loudly, “That’s Deseret Industries!” — was, of course, the scene in the D.I. when Napoleon buys his dance tape. Wow, who knew that the Provo D.I. looks exactly like the Preston, Idaho, D.I.?

  39. A cult teen classic in our mid-Missouri twon even before it hit video. And the day the DVD came out, there were 17 8th graders in my basement, mostly kids who’d seen it multiple times already. When my daughter told friends that she was considering going to BYU Idaho, some asked if they could come visit – or even enroll – so they could see Preston. If you’re a fan (or have one in your home) and haven’t thoroughly explored the official website, check out the “reasons to believe” — — it includes print iron-ons. One of my son’s favorite Christmas gifts was a homemade “Vote for Pedro”shirt.

  40. A kid in my ward is doing everything in his power to look like Napoleon. I joke that he looks like he was dipped in a bat of 70’s sauce. Also, note that I haven’t seen it yet.

  41. Philocrites, my best friend in my ward is from Weiser–are you from there? It’s not a big place, right?

  42. I don’t know how to start a topic here. But I’m desperate for some company in my misery. Please, will someone with the power to do so start a topic on teaching primary? I’ve never taught before, and nobody told me I need a tranquilizer gun to get through opening prayer. (I’m not really kidding.) These are delightful kids and my prayers and tears have led me to ask here: pathetic begging–no greater call, you know….

  43. Kristine, my mom is from Weiser, but I’m from Orem, Utah. And no: It’s not a big place at all. Maybe 8,000 people, three or four wards in one building. I think the fictional high school teacher on “Head of the Class” claimed to be from Weiser, which is its pop-culture claim to fame — aside from the annual Fiddlers Festival, which is a good time, too.

  44. My wife and I saw the movie for the first time last week and just loved it. I think that one aspect of the movie that makes it accessible for such a wide range of kids is that the popular kids are dorks, too. Anyone who feels embarassed for Napoleon must feel equally embarrassed for Summer Wheatley as she smirks condescendingly from her post as a discount store teller, or her boyfriend as he rises alone to cheer for the inane dance number she performs. The “popular” kids in this movie are not portrayed as powerful, numerous or even well-liked. Rather than mocking Napoleon, as some myopic older commentators have apparently suggested, the film shows how one among many awkward kids manages to do some good.

    As to LDS connections, I had the consistent impression that the girl he takes to the dance is supposed to be LDS. I noticed the painting as well, but the thing that really convinced me was the way her mom jumped on the idea of her child going to the dance with an unpopular kid. The idea of popular kids condescending to the disadvantaged is a motif in LDS youth culture, or at least it was when I was growing up. Also: Summer Wheatley’s boyfriend’s belief that you can wear pale khaki pants with a white shirt? Where else but the deacon’s quorum does one learn such things?

  45. I loved the movie. Here at my work it has been the most quoted movie for the last couple weeks. My wife couldn’t stand it though and had to walk out of it halfway through. (Thank goodness it was a rental.) She is the only one I know that has some sort of argument about how detrimental it is.

  46. “maybe I can interest you in some decorative key-chains.”

    “No Thanks. I already made infinity of those at Scout Camp.”

    The juxtaposition of those key chains and Scout Camp has to have some esoteric Mormon connection.

    Every day when I get home from school I tell my wife, “I am 100% positive that you are soul mate”.

  47. It’s been a while, but some essential ND reading is Orson’s Telescope’s stunning revelation that Hess ripped off the 1977 Mormon short film “The Phone Call” (you know, the one on the same tape as “Cipher in the Snow” and “Uncle Ben”).

    And here is Hess’s reply, where he admits having seen the classic short, but tries to laugh off any connection:

  48. I will always associate “The Phone Call” with youth temple trips. We’d always watch Church produced videos as we waited for the Young Women to do their baptisms. Seems odd to me now to have watched such a program within the temple though.

  49. I would say that “The Phone Call” and such is so inculcated into our pschye that it becomes part of our collective unconcious. Also, the geeky kid has always been a symbol of our insecurity. There was nothing unique about this metaphor.

    Re karate – a quick route to Physical mastery is often advertised to geeky kids. If you look back at the first comic books you will likely find an ad for “Charles Atlas” or later for Karate. Geeky kids are so desperate for acceptance they will try anything, even these unlikely endeavors to improve their situation.

    The real difference is that in TPC, there is the female subplot about staying active in the church and avoiding abusive boys.

    But in summary the moral in TPC is that you can by happy by just being confident and loving yourself and you will rise above the geekiness and get the girl.

    In ND the moral is that you should embrace your geekiness, things don’t change ,but you can still be happy.

  50. I seen Napoleon quite a few times and it is hilarious…..even though there is no plot really it still crack me and my friends up. People i talk to say that they think it is stupid but i love Napoleon. Then i heard that he died in a car accident but i don’t know what to believe…so if anyone knows the truth please write me back. Thanks

  51. This move is the best in the world! It is so flippin’ sweet. I like tots, too. Anyway, there is no one in my school that doesn’t own Napoleon Dynamite merchandise except for the preps. But no one likes them anyway. I think it is spelled La Faunduh, as it was on the sign that Kip made.

  52. Hmmm, You saw it before I did!!! LOL I am 24 years old and I have a Sister that’s 13 and a Stepbrother that’s 16. Ally had seen the movie already but my brother and I had not. They live in Georgia, I live in Mississippi. But I went home to visit and my Dad and I were onthe way to pick the siblings up, and we got to talking about movies. And I said… “Well, Whatever you do, Don’t Rent The Village. Dumbest F***ing Movie Ever. The plot was HORRIBLE.” And he replied with… ” No, I’ll Tell You The DUMBEST MOVIE ever made… That Stupid Napoleon Dynamite!” So that’s what I had heard of it. So I thought, well, ok, My Dad has good taste in movies so, I’m not going to see it. My Sister talked about it the whole time I was there… My Stepbro still hadn’t seen it, but said he wanted to cause every KID IN SCHOOL was MOCKING & IMMITATING it!!!

    SO, I come back to Mississippi and My Fiance and I are trying to find something to watch on TV… Which there was nothing, so we flipped to our ICONTROL Channels and started scrolling down the list. I was like, “Hmmmm…Daddy said that this is a stupid movie, but Ally said that it was funny and she bout pee’d on herself…” So we decided to watch and now, I own the movie, and the first two weeks that I had the movie… ha… that’s all I ever watched!!! I think I watched it a total of 30 times in one week… LOL No Joke. My Fiance could swear to it!!! I loved it!!! It was HALAIRIOUS.

    The only thing that got me was the when the movie starts and you see all of these kids dressed like they are and so forth… it kinda makes you think that the movie is set in like, the 80’s or something, and I actually thought that it was till I heard that Backstreet Boys Song that Summer did her Dance Routine to. Then I knew it wasn’t set in the 80’s. But it sure did seem that way to me. Do ppl still dress like that?!? LOL

    Anyways, I loved it, It was a FANTASTIC MOVIE!!! No SEX, No CURSING, No VIOLENCE… well, besides the Kip Slap… & The Grapefruit Toss… LOL


  53. Napoleon Dynamite is an interesting movie… it seems like it just keeps going, and going, and going… The fans are quite crazy too. I’ve been reading articles on a website about the film called and it never ceases to amaze me how fanatical these folks are. Maybe I’m just old…

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