A famous actor, lying on his deathbed, was visited by a friend. “Is it hard to die?”, asked the friend. Replied the actor, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Truer words were never spoken. Think of most films that win awards and plaudits. Most are dramas. When you get right down to it, it’s a lot easier to yell at someone than it is to make them laugh.
Which brings me to Napoleon Dynamite. My advice to writer/director Jared Hess is, Stop making comedies. His two films since this has been Nacho Libre (2006), and, Gentleman Broncos (2009). I didn’t make it through Nacho Libre. The other, Gentleman Broncos, I have only seen the trailer. I can’t quite bring myself to give up money to see it. Here seems to be proof that his zenith has been reached in the comedy genre.
There might be some out there that think Nacho Libre and Gentleman Broncos are great movies. Please email me your reasons at firstname.lastname@example.org. For that matter, any of my postings you disagree with can be emailed to that address. This way, it makes it easier to delete all the emails at one time.
Director Hess frames up his shots simply, but perfectly composed. Once the punch of the scene is over, he jumps to the next scene. This pace is kept the same for 82 minutes. Much of the humor seems real, though dysfunctional. A scene where Napoleon tosses an action figure connected with fishing line out the school bus window so he can watch it bounce behind him reminds me of when myself, as a kid, tied model airplanes together, threw them out a second story window, dragged them back up and repeated the process over and over. The scene where he and his brother Kip get in a real but harmless fight and Kip fears that the mole on his neck has been pulled off, reminds me of the time my brother and I got in a fight, until I felt wetness on my neck and realized MY mole had been yanked off. The scene where the farmer shoots his cow in the field in front of a school bus filled with screaming children reminds me of . . . nothing, thank goodness. But THAT scene came from a true life anecdote from Hess’ childhood.
The cast, John Heder (Napoleon), brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), Pedro (Efren Ramerez), and, well, EVERYONE are perfect examples of comedic timing and acting.
Two scenes to look for which brings this comedy into truly special territory: 1. Uncle Rico reminisces longingly for 1982 when he was playing High School football. Gries is brilliant. He manages to be funny, pitiable, and heartbreakingly aware of his sad life in a matter of seconds. 2. At the end, after Napoleon’s big dance number, as the harmonica and guitar music flows, we’re treated to scenes of the all main characters. It shows how all these poor dysfunctional souls can against all reasonable odds, find happiness. It’s amazingly touching and heartfelt.
Comedy is hard. But Napoleon Dynamite shows is it can also be amazing.