When Napoleon Dynamite opens in select theaters this Friday, it will either live up to its reputation as a quirky deadpan audience favorite or it will go the way of so many festival successes before it, a victim of the Sundance hype-bubble, the Happy Texas-Next Stop Wonderland-syndrome.
Distrib Fox Searchlight, which acquired the film for the astromonical price of some $3-5 million during the festival, has been having word-of-mouth screenings around the country. I don’t simply know this because it’s standard practice, but because I saw flyers during a recent stint in Chicago that advertised one such showing. The real reason I took notice was my name was on the flyer: under the film’s title, it read: “the year’s most exuberant crowd-pleaser!” — Anthony Kaufman. I was blurbed.
Normally, a writer doesn’t mind being blurbed. I wrote it, sure, and the distributors and marketeers can do whatever they want with my words after they’re published. They can even stick in an exclamation point. But what gets me is that I didn’t particularly like Napoleon Dynamite and the full text of the sentence goes on to say, “the film may be what Variety’s Todd McCarthy calls an example of a film popular at Sundance that ‘can’t find its way in the real world.'”
Personally, I agree. While I hate to bash the little-indie-that-could, the standing ovations at Sundance seemed like they were taking place on an alien planet. What exactly did people see in this clueless slacker and his stereotyped Hispanic sidekick? Maybe I’m too old to tap into the zeitgeist. Or maybe I’m right — that this film never should have been one of the big buys of Park City 2004. One day, long ago, I imagine a small company like Orion Classics would have taken the film for a modest sum and released it on a small, profitable level. Now, the film is getting the full million-dollar marketing treatment with as much going to P&A as the high-priced acquisition costs.
Frankly, I’d be surprised if Napoleon Dynamite is the sleeper hit that Fox Searchlight is counting on. But then again, I guess that’s what a lot of people said about Blair Witch.