I watched Napoleon Dynamite last night for the first time since its original release, and was pleased to see that it holds up exceptionally well.
I looked up what I wrote about it in 2004:
Napoleon Dynamite is an unusually smart movie masquerading as a teen-angst farce. The best high-school flicks have a way of being quite unexpectedly touching, and sometimes even subtly observant (Heathers was one of the smartest movies of the past decade), and if I had to choose between, say, Saving Private Ryan and Dazed and Confused, or Bulworth and Clueless, I’d opt for the feather-light soufflé over the heavily earnest main course every time. Napoleon Dynamite, an independent comedy made by a bunch of Idaho-based crazies, is as good as or better than those fondly remembered films, and it also has a touch of strangeness, even surrealism, that makes it pleasingly tricky to categorize.
The underlying plot mechanism is lifted from Revenge of the Nerds, but the title character (exquisitely well played by Jon Heder) is so extreme in his geekery that he never engages your sympathy–nor does he try. That’s what’s makes Napoleon Dynamite interesting: though it’s pulverizingly funny, it’s not a feel-good movie. Instead, it combines the sharp-eyed small-town spoofery of Waiting for Guffman with the tough-minded social satire of Election and Daria. Yet none of these cinematic reference points, relevant though they are, can fully convey its special quality.
I’d stand by those words today.