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Impending Demise Of Napoleon Dynamite
Tragedies like "Dodgeball" don’t have to
[by Jonathan David Morris] 2/3/06
Would it be wrong to root against a man’s career? Would it
be wrong to consciously hope for someone - a living, breathing
human being - to fail at whatever it is he’s trying to do?
What if you didn’t know this man? What if you had no reason
to root against him? What if you only hoped for his failure because
you liked his work?
Would it be wrong?
Here’s why I ask: A couple of weeks ago, I saw the trailer
for an upcoming comedy called The Benchwarmers, about three grown
men who go around the country playing Little League teams in
baseball. Now, you probably don’t need me to tell you this
premise sounds awful. Personally, though, I’m open-minded
and could easily give it a shot. The problem I have with this
movie, however, and the reason I’ll most likely avoid it,
is its cast. The top two stars are former SNL buddies Rob Schneider
and David Spade. And whenever Rob Schneider stars in a movie,
it usually turns out to be crap.
Now, I’d be all right with that if all this was, was another
crappy Rob Schneider movie. I’d just chalk it up to the
legendary SNL curse - in which former cast members either tragically
die or star in movies produced by Adam Sandler - and leave it
at that. But the problem is, this is more than just another crappy
Rob Schneider movie. Because this movie also stars Jon Heder.
And Jon Heder, in case you don’t know, was the guy whose
brilliant performance powered the title role of Napoleon
This is a
problem for me. And it’s a problem for anyone
who thought Jon Heder had tons of potential. Rob Schneider represents
the opposite of everything you want in a comedy. When he walks
by flowers, he kills them. At best, The Benchwarmers figures
to be mildly entertaining. But at worst, it figures to be another
sad chapter in a series of Rob Schneider movies starting with “The” (such
as The Animal and The Hot Chick). This doesn’t bode well
for Heder’s career. And it doesn’t bode well for Napoleon Dynamite’s legacy.
This is a
shame because Napoleon Dynamite is one of the early 21st century’s most essential movies. It’s an astonishing
film, and I’m not afraid to say that - as trendy as saying
it may be. I didn’t like this movie the first time I saw
it. I liked things about it, of course, but it just didn’t
seem so special. Over time, though, it began to sink in. Scenes
would replay in my mind. I’d remember Pedro’s priceless
lack of expression. I’d hear Kip’s whiny, undetermined
voice. I’d think back on that scene where Lyle the farmer
eats a sandwich and points into the distance, saying something
so garbled and incomprehensible that, to date, I still don’t
know what he said (and don’t want to). And I’d start
to realize maybe there was something special about this movie
after all. When I went back and watched it again (and again,
and again), I realized, yep, there was. Now I’m hooked.
Napoleon Dynamite’s characters aren’t just characters.
They’re people. And the more you watch them, the more you
realize you know these people. Or hell, in high school, maybe
you were these people. (I sure was.)
That’s why this movie has been the “it” movie
of the last two years. That’s why, wherever you go, you
see people wearing “Vote For Pedro” t-shirts. This
story of quirky, small town redemption is spot-on perfect. Wherever
you’re from, you probably know a Napoleon Dynamite. And
whoever you are, you probably have a little Napoleon in you.
In many ways,
Napoleon Dynamite is more than a movie at this point. It’s a cultural milestone. A work of art. Which
is why I suddenly find myself asking the questions posed at the
top of this article. Is it wrong to root against a man’s
career? What if the only reason you’re rooting against
him is because you like his work?
As I sit
here thinking about The Benchwarmers, I’m just
as skeptical as I was when I first saw the trailer a couple of
weeks ago. In Napoleon Dynamite, Heder played the ultimate high
school idiot. In this one, he apparently plays some kind of retard
in a bike helmet. The movie doesn’t look funny, and Heder
doesn’t look funny in it. Perhaps I’ll turn out to
be wrong about that. I’d like that to be the case. But
already it’s clear the typecasting has begun. Even if The
Benchwarmers ends up being a pleasant surprise, it seems inevitable
now that Heder’s career will eventually parody his role
as Napoleon. Once that happens, it will become impossible to
separate the actor from the character. I worry about this. It
threatens to cheapen a very important movie (provided its own
popularity doesn’t cheapen it first).
I find myself asking: Should I root against Jon Heder’s
success as an actor? Would it be wrong to believe that, for Napoleon
to live, his career must die? I mean, the only sure way to prevent
Heder from making crappy, Rob Schneider-style movies is to stop
him from making movies, period - isn’t it? I feel bad saying
that, don’t get me wrong. He technically doesn’t
deserve to be scorned yet, so this is sort of a preemptive strike.
But Napoleon Dynamite truly is a special movie. It’s important
to me and to a lot of other people. If Heder falls into a string
of lousy post-Napoleon roles, I can’t help but think it’ll
tarnish his first and finest hour. I really don’t want
that to happen. Perhaps I have no right to feel this way. Perhaps
I’m getting awfully territorial about a simple comedy film.
But that’s just the way I feel about this thing. That Benchwarmers trailer left a taste in my mouth like burnt popcorn. I don’t
want this taste to overshadow Heder’s work as Napoleon.
the overriding question here - Would it be wrong to root against
a man’s career? - would be easier to answer
if that man were a career politician or a career hitman. To my
knowledge, Jon Heder is neither of these things. He’s just
an artist, attempting to make a career from his art. But I think
this dilemma speaks to a larger problem within the realm of art
and pop culture consumption. Napoleon Dynamite was an underdog
film about an underdog person. But the film, like its character,
isn’t really an underdog anymore. In the end, it became
a big hit. And like any big hit, it figures to jump the proverbial
shark at some point down the road. That’s just what big
hits do. They capture something special, and people like it,
so the folks involved spend the next few years killing the whole
concept in an effort to capture that spark again.
a couple of years ago, I couldn’t imagine not
wanting to see every movie that starred the so-called "Frat
Pack" of Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Owen
Wilson. I still think these guys are funny, of course, but I’m
kind of tired of seeing them together all the time. Tragedies
like Dodgeball don’t have to happen, if only these guys
would branch out more. The same goes for a lot of the bands I’ve
listened to over the years. Every now and then, a new artist
will show up with a fresh, new sound. People will spend the next
two years desperately waiting for a second album as good as the
first. And then, when it comes out, it’ll sound exactly
the same. But it won’t sound inspired. And no one will
care for that band anymore.
That’s what appears to be happening to Jon Heder. Obviously,
I don’t expect every movie this guy stars in to be as good
- or as special - as Napoleon Dynamite. I don’t think it’s
possible to indulge in the arts without turning out a piece of
garbage every now and then. I think I’ve proven this myself
over the years. Sometimes I write stuff that blows my own mind.
Other times I turn in an article that makes me want to vomit
all over my writing career. I wouldn’t like it if someone
told me to stop writing because my best work was already behind
me, so I’m willing to give Jon Heder some slack. In answer
to the question I posed up top, no, I don’t think it’s
wrong to root against a man’s career; but, in fairness
to Heder, he hasn’t quite earned his jeers yet. But for
the sake of all those Napoleon Dynamite fans out there, I hope
and pray Hollywood offers him the kinds of roles that’ll
let him branch out more. And I hope and pray that he’ll
accept only those sorts of roles.
industry just doesn’t understand this guy’s
genius yet. Or maybe it’ll turn out he’s a remarkably
limited actor. I don’t know. And time will tell. I just
hope we can find out without marring a very special movie. -one-
David Morris is a Staff Writer for The New Media Alliance.
Columns by this author can be read regularly on TheRealityCheck.org.]