Film Review (Combined): Napoleon Dynamite (d. J. Hess, 2004) and Garden State (dir. Z. Braff, 2004)
These are two of the most popular "quirky" comedies of the past year. I enjoyed both films, but I wasn't crazy about either. This review will sound rather negative, but it shouldn't be taken as too negative. Maybe I'm just too old. After all, I'm in my mid-thirties, and these films are about/for "the younger generation." This is really clear with Garden State, which emphasizes that the main characters are twentysomethings. It could be argued that Napoleon Dynamite is, in part, a "nostalgia for the 1980s movie," but if you're in the mood for that, I'd still recommend Sixteen Candles, the best movie about growing up in the 1980s (looking forward to some comments on that claim).
Things I liked: I loved the dance sequence at the end of ND, of course, and I love Natalie Portman in GS, as in almost everything (from Beautiful Girls to Closer. The soundtrack of GS was terrific. ND was funny, in lots of, er, quirky ways.
Complaints: Neither movie really has much of a plot, which means that both seem kind of, well, extended,despite running times under two hours. I wasn't sure where ND was going for most of the movie, and I'm not sure that it really gets anywhere, despite the absurdist dance number. GS is really rambling, despite dramatic conflict (esp. father-son), and really disorganized. It could be argued that the Zach Braff character "grows" at the end, but I'm not persuaded that his decision to stay with Natalie Portman is really a decision . . . that will stick. Why do I believe that he won't flake out tomorrow? Is it not supposed to matter that he might flake out tomorrow? If not, then what was the film about? Can anyone explain the "screaming into the abyss" scene to me, in non-cliched terms? Speaking of which, um, are we supposed to understand the final minutes' visit to the junkyard as a . . . metaphorical journey into hell? If so, is the Peter Skarsgaard "stoner" character some kind of spiritual guide? Based on his . . . drug use? Or his occupation (gravedigger)?
I'm thinking that I'm not really the target audience here.
ND: If you want to watch a humiliation movie, shouldn't you just pick a Ben Stiller flick? Is humilation in the form of the petty indigities visited on Napoleon really that funny? Really? Is it supposed to be funny that Kip has an affair with a tall black woman? Is it because . . . there's no plausible explanation for this relationship in the film . . . or outside of it, either? Is it "funny" when something completely unbelievable happens in a movie? Why is that?