You Lost Me at “Gosh!”

Napoleon Dynamite

I was willing to go with Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite up until the very first exclamation of “Gosh!”

For the record, that would be in its second line of dialogue, after the title character is asked what he’s going to do that day: “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!”

I love the first part of the line. Napoleon is not going to do what he wants to do; he’s going to do what he feels like he wants to do.

But then it gets to the character’s signature exclamation, and it becomes obvious that this is a movie that’s trying way too hard to be distinctive. Everything about the damned picture — from the character name to the wardrobe to the hair — is outré to the point of abstraction. The film is set in Idaho but might as well take place on Mars for its level of recognizable humanity.

Napoleon Dynamite positions itself somewhere between the whimsy of Rushmore and the awkwardness of Welcome to the Dollhouse, but it’s socially retarded, emotionally dead, and so detached from reality that it comes off as a condescending freak show. It is so deadpan and so divorced from the inner life of anybody that it’s downright inert.

The movie is meant, I think, as a study of alienation turned into defiant idiosyncrasy, but to be alienated one must have a relationship with the real world. Napoleon Dynamite, his brother, and his uncle don’t; they exist in a fantasy world that was of absolutely no interest to me.

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