By: Lukas Luna
The Downey Performing Arts Theater was host to legions of Napoleon Dynamite fans on Nov. 18, when the cult classic and its stars made their way through town on their current speaking tour.
The film tells the story of the titular awkward outcast’s (Jon Heder) coming of age with his friends Pedro (Efren Ramirez) and Deb (Tina Majorino) in the small town of Preston, Idaho, all the while a visiting Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) yearns for another shot at his highschool football state championship and Napoleon’s brother Chip (Aaron Ruell) spends hours chatting online with “hot babes” by way of dial-up modem.
Featuring a llama impersonating Napoleon’s pet Tina, a VIP meet-and-greet session, a screening of the classic film, and a moderated Q&A with Heder, Ramirez, and Gries, the tour keeps the 2004 film alive in the popular consciousness.
While the film boasts a large presence in popular culture, it was still a sort of surprise as a then non-believer to see the adoration the film commands: a sea of “Vote for Pedro” cosplays and dang quesadilla quotes akin to a comic-con.
Despite humble beginnings, the film has won a place in the hearts of many, a phenomena not even the cast could have predicted.
“I still don’t think we really realize what big impact this has had,” said Gries. “We never take it for granted, but we never thought it was more than just something cool while we were filming it.”
If you think it was just the audience that was eager to partake in the joy the film brings, forget about it.
“We love doing these shows and it feels great to see everyone coming out and dressed up in the full spirit of the movie,” said Heder. “We’re meeting a lot of people tonight and the energy is palpable.”
As with many movies that explore the triumphs and humiliations of adolescence, many fans fell in love with it in their youth and have since become parents themselves. As a result, Napoleon Dynamite at the Downey Theatre proved to be an intergenerational affair.
“It’s a great opportunity to have older fans who have seen it and loved it to get to see it again,” said Anaheim resident Jade Romo. “It’s really cool to be able to make a night out of it and to bring people like my little brother who have never seen it.”
That is not to say that memories of the Happy Hands Club or Pedro’s run for class president have been tainted by nostalgia. Proudly flaunting a painfully low budget, the film is a beacon to anyone who’s ever wanted to make a movie with little more than a burning passion for the craft.
“It’s just so inspiring as someone who loves films,” said Chino Hills resident Ariel Hutcherson “They made this simple movie and it turned into this big success that everyone loves and quotes.”
If there was ever any doubt to the film’s staying power, it dissipated with liger-like ferocity amid the cheers from the audience during the entire hour-and-a-half runtime.
As a newcomer, I quickly found myself converted like many fans before me. The film’s dumb sincerity and honesty of purposes helps it stand apart from the multiple snark-ladden imitators in it’s wake.
After the lights came up, introductions were made and some light ribbing, the cast got into the meat of the night, taking questions from the audience in a discussion moderated by Los Angeles actor Cody Hanify.
Along with occasional trivia questions, many audience members expressed the profound impact the film has had on their lives. For some, that impact proved to be far more than it simply being a favorite movie.
“My brother, who showed me this movie, passed away some time ago and I’m here tonight with my parents and his girlfriend,” said Maria Gutierrez. “I actually never knew there was another scene after the credits and I was crying and laughing the whole time it was on screen. I loved it and I knew he would’ve loved it, too.”
Despite some other notable projects in their filmography, Heder, Ramirez, and Gries will forever be tied to Napoleon Dynamite. While more cynical performers may scorn the typecasting of an early role, these stars are happy to be so strongly associated with something that makes so many people happy.
“I’ve had people ask me if I hate Napoleon because so many people still see me as Pedro, but if I have to be stuck with any movie, I’m happy it’s this one,” said Ramirez. “This is a movie with a lot of diversity, that’s about not fitting in, and how it’s okay to not fit in. I feel proud to have taught so many people that lesson.”
Napoleon and friends will make their next stop at the The Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas on March 30th. If you decide to make the trip, all of your wildest dreams might just come true.