Jared Hess’ Napoleon Dynamite
Nate von Zumwalt
Graduation season: A time of great optimism, renewal, and blissful naiveté. There is a sweet oblivion that comes with being a recent grad, before dreams have turned to fantasies and a glaring cynicism permeates every aspect of life. Ok, maybe post-grad life isn’t that bad… Celebrate the long lost graduate in you with our Sundance picks, and congrats to all the high school and college graduates!
Rian Johnson’s piercing crime drama is much too refined for a directorial debut. It flirts with a creepy neo-noir aesthetic, but refuses to pander to the genre-obsessed, expertly paving an unexpected path in terms of both style and narrative. Put simply, Brick excels in its ability to remain liberated from genre. I suppose that would explain its 2005 Sundance Film Festival Jury Prize For Originality Of Vision.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an enigmatic high school student intent on connecting the dots following the death of his ex-girlfriend. Despite his outsider status, and though he approaches the periphery of the archetypical loser, he is nonetheless quick-witted and pretty badass. But is it enough to successfully infiltrate the high school crime ring and get to the bottom of the mystery?
On paper, Napoleon Dynamite doesn’t gross $46 million, spawn a moon boot revival, and prompt the sale of millions of ‘Vote for Pedro’ t-shirts. And perhaps that improbability is the greatest testament to the work of director Jared Hess and the quirkiest of performances from John Heder.
Napoleon’s best friend and fellow outcast, Pedro (Efren Ramirez), is running for class president, and the two must devise a plan to defeat the snooty Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff). While Napoleon Dynamite did garner an enthusiastic, somewhat fanatical group of followers, that group is by no means small. Thus, the cult label the film has received is a bit of a misnomer and a product of the film’s brilliant absurdity.
Another reclusive outcast wallowing in his teen angst, another appropriate addition to our Graduation Films List.
James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is devastated after his parents reveal they can’t finance his post-grad European trip. What’s worse: the alternative is staying home and finding summer employment in order to support his upcoming Ivy League schooling. It’s the summer of 1987, so that means working the games section at the local amusement park, Adventureland.
Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Martin Starr, and Ryan Reynolds lead a stellar cast and director Greg Motolla (Superbad) crafts a charming portrait of young love and self-realization with just the right dose of his trademark humor.
The multi-talented and seemingly ubiquitous Josh Radnor plays Jesse Fisher, a thirty-something caught in a drab existence and succumbing to early onset mid-life crisis. But when he returns to his alma mater to speak at a former professor’s retirement dinner, Jesse finds himself enthralled by a precocious 19-year-old student played by the alluring Elizabeth Olsen.
Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) is the newest addition to “The Heathers,” a quartet of snobby trend-setters at Westerburg High. Unbeknownst to her new counterparts, Veronica’s deviance far exceeds their own. After she begins dating the unruly school newcomer, J.D. (Christian Slater), the two collaborate in an effort to take down their enemies. But the outcome is far more sinister than anticipated, and the pair are forced to cover up a series of murders.
Also, soon to be released: HIGH School
What did we forget? Let us in on your favorite grad-themed Sundance films in the comment section below.