The story of a hapless everydweeb’s plotless adventures through junior high doesn’t exactly sound like the formula for an intensely hilarious film, but Napoleon Dynamite has stretched that very concept to great lengths. Not only has the movie proven to be successful, but fans have become so obsessive that the story’s hometown of Preston, Idaho has already put on a Napoleon Dynamite festival. Just a few months after its release, Napoleon has already attained cult status.
The accompanying soundtrack isn’t much of an album, but it couldn’t be a better companion to the movie. Barring the omission of the White Stripes’ “We’re Going to Be Friends,” which appeared in the opening credits, the best audio moments from the movie are present: the kitschy ’80s pop, John Swihart’s original score, and actual bits of dialogue. None could carry a soundtrack alone, but together the three tie into the movie nicely. Swihart’s score is especially memorable, as he twists different organ sounds to fit each character. High-pitched noodling marks most of Napoleon’s scenes, while Uncle Rico’s themes are bottomed-out numbers of funky bass. The score and the songs mirror the time warp that the movie is set in, ambiguously recalling the late-’70s and early-’80s in the same way that Napoleon’s walls are lined with wood paneling.
Of all the songs, Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” carries the most significance, having climaxed the movie with Napoleon’s unforgettable dance montage. It’s one of the only truly listenable pop songs on the album. The soundtrack also has a live version of “Every Moment” by Rogue Wave and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” by Sparklemotion, but songs by When In Rome, Yaz, Alphaville, and basically all of the other bands featured seem to hail from an era when synthesizers were everywhere but no one had the slightest clue how to use them. This is an era that time forgot, and somehow so is Preston, Idaho. As such, these songs work brilliantly in the context of the film, but they don’t fare quite so well by themselves. When padded with movie quotes and bits of the score they become more tolerable, but only the movie’s psycho fans will be calling this “pretty much the sweetest album of the year.”