Screenplay Structure: Napoleon Dynamite
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Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is a movie that is definitely a love it or hate it kind of experience. I happen to love it; it’s the movie I saw as a kid that got me interested in film in the first place. I had never seen anything like it and loved the fact that it existed. The film is written by Jared and Jerusha Hess and is directed by Jared Hess. The characters and performances in this film are truly one of a kind, it stars Jon Heder as Napoleon, Efren Ramirez as Pedro, Jon Gries as Uncle Rico, Aaron Ruell as Kip, and Tina Majorino as Deb. The characters and events in the film seem outlandish, but the detailed writing and characterization in this film make it so, so real and you are really taken into the world of the film.
Act 1: Set-Up
Napoleon ( Jon Heder) takes the bus to school, a kid on the bus asks him what he’s going to do today, Napoleon’s response is “whatever I feel like I wanna do, GOSH”. Napoleon proceeds to throw an action figure tied to a string out the window to trail behind the bus.
We follow Napoleon on a day at school where he gives a presentation on the Loch Ness Monster, plays tetherball by himself, gets bullied, and eventually goes to the Nurse and calls home to his brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) who is at home making nachos.
When he gets off the phone he meets Pedro (Efren Ramirez), a new student at the school and shows him to his locker. Napoleon thinks Pedro is really cool since he has a really sick bike.
Back at home Napoleon’s Grandma (Sandy Martin) informs Kip and Napoleon that she’s leaving and will be back tomorrow.
Soon after Grandma leaves, the doorbell rings. It’s Deb (Tina Majorino) a young woman selling keychains and advertising her “Glamour Shots by Deb”. After Napoleon and Kip give her a hard time she leaves her box of crafts with Napoleon and runs away.
Napoleon tries to feed Tina, their llama and pulls Kip into town on his bike to go to Rex Kwon Do.
All of these interactions develop these weird and quirky characters.
Pedro and Napoleon become friends. Pedro tells Napoleon that he’s going to ask Summer Wheatly (Haylie Duff) to the school dance.
Later in the lunch room Napoleon goes to talk to Deb and gives her the craft boxes.
Act 1: Catalyst
Napoleon goes out to feed Tina again after school as an orange van pulls up. It’s Napoleon’s Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) who informs him that his Grandma got hurt dirt biking at the sand dunes and that he’ll be staying with them – this is the catalyst of the film since Uncle Rico’s presence effects all of Napoleon’s choices and problems that occur in the rest of the film.
Uncle Rico immediately sits down to show Kip and Napoleon a home video of himself throwing a football.
Kip goes out with Uncle Rico and tells him about the girl he’s been talking to online and Uncle Rico tells Kip about his business idea.
Napoleon helps Pedro leave a cake at Summer’s door. Uncle Rico expresses his interest in time travel. Summer rejects Pedro offer to take her to the dance. Deb and Napoleon bond over his drawing of a Liger. Kip and Uncle Rico develop the business plan and go to get their pictures taken by Deb.
Act 2A: Break Into Two/ Plot Point 1
Napoleon tells Pedro about Summer and Pedro asks Deb instead. Deb says yes.
Pedro suggests that Napoleon draw a picture of the girl he wants to take to the dance and give it to her as a gift since “girls only want boyfriends who have great skills”. Napoleon begins his work on Trisha’s portrait – this is Plot Point 1!
Act 2A: Fun & Games
Uncle Rico and Kip go door to door selling plastic tupperware containers.
Napoleon goes to Trisha’s house to deliver the portrait and coincidentally, Uncle Rico is already inside selling her mother tupperware. When Napoleon leaves Rico tells Trisha’s mother that Napoleon still wets the bed.
Trisha’s mom feels bad and forces Trisha to go to the dance with Napoleon.
Napoleon tries working at a chicken farm to make money to show up Uncle Rico and Kip. He makes $6. Napoleon gets a call from Trisha and she tells him she can go to the dance with him. Pedro helps Napoleon pick out a suit at the thrift store.
The day of the dance comes and Uncle Rico has to make a sale, so Napoleon goes with him. It takes too long so Napoleon decides to start running. Pedro’s cousins show up and give Napoleon a ride to pick up Trisha.
Trisha ditches Napoleon once they get to the dance. Napoleon hangs out with Deb and Pedro, at this point they have all really become friends.
Act 2B: Transition/ Tensions Rise
Pedro decides to run for class president, Summer is his opponent. Pedro shaves his head because its making him hot and then regrets it. So Napoleon and Deb pick out a wig for him. Napoleon and Pedro work hard hanging posters and campaigning for Pedro.
Kip meets Lafawnduh (Shondrella Avery) for the first time and Uncle Rico starts selling breast enlargement pills as his new product.
Napoleon finally stands up to Uncle Rico. Napoleon finds an instructional dance video at the thrift store and starts practicing. Pedro as a close call when he gets in trouble for hanging a piñata that looks like Summer outside school.
Lafawnduh gives Napoleon a mix tape. Uncle Rico goes to Deb for more glamour shots and tries to sell her breast enlargement supplements and tries to tell her Napoleon said she’d be interested.Deb calls Napoleon to let him know he’s “a shallow friend”.
Deb calls Napoleon to let him know he’s “a shallow friend”.
Act 2B/3: Transition/ Plot Point 2
It’s the election and Pedro is really nervous since Summer is one of the most popular kids in school. When Summer comes out to perform, Pedro and Napoleon are informed that they are expected to have a skit prepared.
Pedro is discouraged, Napoleon tells him to “follow his heart”. Pedro goes out on stage to give a half-hearted speech.
Napoleon goes out on stage and uses his newly acquired dance moves and performs a routine that earns a standing ovation – this is Plot Point 2!
Act 3: The Epilogue
Napoleon’s Grandma returns and Uncle Rico leaves. Kip puts Lafawnduh on the bus home. Pedro wins the election. Deb joins Napoleon for a game of tetherball.
If you haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite, you should definitely give it a watch. It has become a film with a huge cult following and to this day, I still don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. It’s a fun film about friendship and will definitely make you laugh. From beginning to end the attention to detail in this film is amazing and really develops an awesome world.
Marissa Caico is a recent grad in Film Studies (CUNY Queens College, 2018) and is interested in all aspects of the craft. She loves food, art, and traveling. Some of her favorite movies include Napoleon Dynamite, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant, Stranger Than Paradise, and Paris Is Burning.