So I went to Napoleon Dynamite with a friend last night. For the uninitiated, it’s an independent film made by several BYU grads. They entered it into Sundance, where it was apparently wildly popular. A movie studio bought it, and now it is being slowly rolled out on the limited release model. It’s been in D.C. for a couple of months now, and is still gaining momentum. (Full house Saturday night.)
The plot you ask? Well, imagine your most misanthropic stage of adolescence–add in a red ‘fro, a permanent slack-jawed look, moon-boots, living in Preston Idaho, a dysfunctional family, and a strange love of tater-tots, and voila, our protaganist Napoleon. I didn’t really explain the plot, because there isn’t much of one. It’s mainly a series of vignettes, all leading up to a school election and the funniest dance scene you’ve ever seen in the movies….really. There are no overt Mormon references, but lots of markers: asking your date to the dance through elaborate passive schemes, modest prom dresses, boondoggle at scout camp, your mother forcing you to date the loser kid, future farmers of America, really big bangs way after they went out of style, and the fabulously colorful substitute swearing–gooooosh! frickin’! iiidiot!
I’ve seen the movie twice. The first time, a month or so ago, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in a movie. This time I took a friend who grew up in the Northeast. I had admittedly talked up the movie a little too much, and the audience was full of teenagers, who had obviously seen the movie several times, and were laughing in advance of the jokes. But really, my friend didn’t get it. This is a person with a highly developed, and wonderfully subversive sense of humor. She thought that perhaps the humor was from the clever manipulation of cultural references that she wasn’t familiar with. Ultimately, we figured out that she just found the movie depressing, and it seemed mean to laugh at the characters–dampening the humor of it.
Which makes me wonder, is “stereotyping” humor only funny if you are skewering your own culture, and is the audience then limited to members of that culture? Am I cold-hearted and unChristian for howling with laughter at the rural Mormons? Am I really cold-hearted and unChristian because I needed someone else to point out to me that it was kinda sad? The thing is, I still think the film is brilliant, but in true Mormon fashion, wonder if I should feel guilty about it…..