Playwriting

Napoleon Dynamite

I did not want to see this movie. I resisted seeing this movie. I have seen clips, I have seen people quote it, I have seen those ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirts. When it was on tv and Craig wanted to see this movie, and I had nothing else to do and nowhere to go, I still didn’t want to see this movie. But I did. And I really loved it.

So why am I talking about it on a theatre web blog? Because part of the reason I loved the movie was the vision behind it. This was a script with a vision, a director with a vision, a lead actor with a vision and that always cheers my day. There are so many movies (plays, books, tv shows) that are insane wastes of space because they don’t say anything. Even comedies can say something or ask the question ‘what if’ or experiment with form and function.

What’s the vision for Napoleon Dynamite? (Or my interpretation of the vision anyway) Flat. Everything is flat. The landscape? Flat. The story? Flat. The acting? Flat. The blocking? Flat. Every time more than two people are in a scene they’re standing in a straight line. (which everyone knows is a big no no!) One of the characters walks with her hands almost glued to her sides as if she’s a cardboard cutout. The emotional warmth level of the acting is about a minus two which in the hands of other people, would have turned out to be a disaster. But somehow it’s not. I mean, there’s really not one truly likeable character in the movie! And I think it’s because the movie is so intensely dedicated to the vision.

What I also like about the movie is the lack of explanation. It’s a lean, lean, script. It’s the essence of slice of life storytelling – I hate when character say things, that clearly others around them already know, for the benefit of the audience. This script explains nothing. It doesn’t say why Napoleon is living with his 32 year old brother and his grandmother. There’s no mention of the parents. There is no backstory between any of the teen characters. In fact, the only backstory is one story the uncle tells about how his life would have been different if he had been put ‘in the game’ back in high school.

My favourite moment for this is at the very end and the coda wedding. The brother is marrying his chat room sweetheart and when she says ‘I do’ there is a shot of her brother dropping his head into his hands. That says it all. No explanation necessary. We know immediately how he feels, and there was no need for scenes with her family, or arguing, or scenes leading up to the wedding trying to change her mind. One two second picture of a guy dropping his head into his hand.

Great movie. The director’s next project was Nacho Libre. There’s a movie I really, really, really, really, really don’t want to see…… (really)

About the author

Lindsay Price