April 6-7, 2024
A $1 million prize and a worldwide tech hunt. It seems unlikely that an oddball comedy about ligers and llamas would ever stir such a response. But that is exactly what Napoleon Dynamite – starring Supa-Star Jon Heder – managed to do when it made its way into the streaming world.
See, in the earlier years of Netflix, the streaming platform ran into a pretty big problem, all thanks to the 2004 film. While Netflix’s algorithms usually suggest a choice based on your current watches (eg. Mean Girls would lead to Clueless and Gossip Girl etc.), when it came to the hit film Napoleon Dynamite, the streaming platform found it almost impossible to tell whether viewers would enjoy the film based on their previous matches.
This phenomenon, which became known as the Napoleon Dynamite Problem, even drove Netflix to offer $1 million to the tech head who could solve the glitch.
But what is it exactly about Napoleon Dynamite that makes it so hard to categorise? And could that abnormality also be the key to making a film everyone can enjoy, regardless of their usual tastes?
Read on to see how we think every type of film watcher will find something to love in Napoleon Dynamite.
FOR THE COMEDY CONNOISSEURS
Those now familiar with Jon Heder’s later works (Blades of Glory, Surf’s Up) know what a comedic powerhouse the actor is. However, at the time of Napoleon Dynamite, which was Heder’s first role, fans were blown away by his hilariously gawky and novel approach to the titular role.
Aided by brilliantly bizarre writing from the dream team that is Jared and Jerusha Hess, Heder’s performance is one that will go down in the history books for its perfect timing and deadpan expression. While being in the similar ilk of laugh-out-loud hits like Superbad and Rushmore, Napoleon Dynamite proves itself as a comedic cut above the rest with its faultless blend of wit and whimsy.
FOR THE TEEN MOVIE TRAGIC
This one may sound pretty self-explanatory, but hear us out. In 2004, the typical teen movie was among the likes of A Cinderella Story or Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and in that way alone, Napoleon Dynamite brought something completely new to the table.
Napoleon Dynamite was different, not just because it didn’t feature any ex-Disney stars, but also because it gave an unglamorous and awkward look at those teenage years. While fashion montages are fun and all, and everyone loves a grand romantic gesture featuring Chad Michael Murray, Napoleon Dynamite was a refreshing take at the gracelessness of growing up. And while that may mean the film is a little too real at times, Napoleon Dynamite ultimately paved the way for more relatable teen movies, as well as teaching us it’s sometimes cool to be uncool.
FOR THE SOUNDTRACK SUCKER
Much like other indie films of the early ‘00s (Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist — any Michael Cera film, really), Napoleon Dynamite is set to a killer playlist. From the opening title scene where The White Stripes’ We’re Going to be Friends plays behind an almost Wes Anderson-esque flatlay, we know our ears won’t be disappointed.
An equal mix of delightfully daggy earworms like Alphaville’s Forever Young, and more indie beats such as Figurine’s New Mate, the soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to the film, letting both the quirky and cool shine through harmoniously.
FOR THE CULT CLASSIC FANATICS
Some critics find it pretty easy to reject films like Napoleon Dynamite as being cinematic classics because they don’t fit the mould of a typical Oscar contender. Yet most critics also forget that classic comedies and cult faves such as The Graduate and Heathers all got their start in the same way.
Full of endearing pastiche and pastel palettes that bring home the film’s quirk and Napoleon’s own eccentricity, Napoleon Dynamite builds a recognisable look and cinematic style that even some big budget films fail to deliver on, all despite the fact the film only cost $400,000 to make.
FOR THE UNAPOLOGETIC NERD
Lastly, perhaps the most charming thing about Napoleon Dynamite is its ability to make us laugh with Napoleon, not at him. Although Napoleon is the embodiment of a classic nerd, from his high-waisted jeans to his signature frames, the film never tries to make us dwell in his awkwardness but rather allows us to bask in his small victories.
The film came out just before the reclamation of nerd culture, with shows like Silicon Valley and The Big Bang Theory following suit soon after, and its lasting impact is still easy to find in nerd culture today. For us nerds, Napoleon Dynamite was one of the first tributes to geek chic, and we’ll be forever thankful of it for letting us fly our nerd flag high.
Jon Heder will appear at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Melbourne (6-7 April) and Gold Coast (13-14 April).