Lou Lumenick, New York Post:
With a style that invites comparisons to such indie vets as Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater and Alexander Payne, this Sundance favorite is an unusual mainstream effort by Mormon filmmakers: director Jared Hess and his wife Jerusha, who co-wrote the clever script, met as students at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. Their lead is another BYU alumnus: the unknown Jon Heder, who gives a perfectly pitched, deadpan performance as the nerdy, bespectacled Napoleon...
Alan Dale, Blogcritics.org:
In addition, all three [writer/director Jared Hess, star Jon Heder, and co-writer Jerusha Hess] are Mormons who met at Brigham Young University, which ought to turn all kinds of stereotypical notions on their heads. (Jared said to Screenwriter's Utopia, "I don't feel there is any Mormon culture in the film," but both Jared and Heder carried out two-year proselytizing missions and that experience may account for the number of people in Napoleon Dynamite who sell things door-to-door. ) These Mormon tyros make the big-industry comedians look square by comparison.
David Edelstein, Slate magazine:
Napoleon Dynamite... To me it looked like a Mormon stab at Wes Anderson--which might be, for some people, an enticement. The director, Jared Hess (who devised the script with his wife, Jerusha, both recent graduates of Brigham Young), uses the Idaho farm landscape cannily... Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder) is neither Napoleonic nor dynamic, which is, I guess, the joke. (The name, an Elvis Costello alter ego, makes Hess the second Mormon after Neil LaBute, in The Shape of Things, to use Costello to no particular end recently.)
[Also, a photo from the movie, accompanying this article, had the caption, "Quirkiness ... Mormon-style."]
Andrew Griffin, Town Talk (Alexandria, LA):
Hess, who learned his trade at Utah's Brigham Young University, is part of a growing group of creative Mormon directors like Richard Dutcher ("God's Army," "Brigham City") and Kurt Hale ("The R.M." and "The Singles Ward").
Matthew Turner, ViewLondon:
It remains to be seen whether it will do quite so well over here [in England], but it's an enjoyable, offbeat film that doesn't rely on the usual teen movie jokes involving sex, drugs, and swearing, largely because writer-director Jared Hess and his wife, co-writer Jerusha Hess graduated from Brigham Young University film school and their Mormon faith prohibited such material.
Gary Thompson, Philadelphia Daily News:
Director Jared Hess, a Mormon who wrote the movie with his wife, has been influenced by other new directors - Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson, to name a couple.
Diane Vadino, Journal News (Westchester, NY):
"Napoleon Dynamite"... benefits from a prevailing gentleness that seems not entirely unrelated to the fact that both the director, his co-writer wife, and his star are Mormons. It's in no way a proselytizing film -- it's hard to recall the word "Mormon" even being uttered -- but it mines an unmistakably unique sensibility.
Casey McCabe, Movie Magazine International:
Napoleon Dynamite... can even verbally assault someone without uttering a single profanity... It's like watching a Mormon trying to cop a 'tude.
Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC):
Napoleon Dynamite is an outgrowth of... Peluca... The Internet Movie Database review of Peluca celebrates the little film's greatness, but comes from someone from Provo, Utah -- perhaps one of Hess' friends from his old alma mater, Brigham Young University? No matter. Hess' other previous credits are all as assistant cameraman for religious four-wallers -- mostly for the Mormon church, but also, oddly, for the Billy Graham production The Climb. And while Napolean Dynamite marks his first shot at a feature of his own, it owes nothing to his four-waller background. And, more often than not, it scores. I have no idea what Hess' actual religious beliefs might be; the only probable vestige of his background in the film is his treating door-to-door sales as a viable way of making a living (these days, about the only thing that's sold door-to-door is religion). In the world of Napoleon Dynamite, the occupation seems perfectly believable, especially since it's plied by characters whose grasp on reality is tenuous at best.
Ed Blank, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
Jared Hess directed from a screenplay he co-wrote with his wife, Jerusha Hess. They and producer Jeremy Coon all met as students at Brigham Young University at the turn of the century. The famous film schools should graduate a team half as savvy.
Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune:
Napoleon (played by Jon Heder, who is set to graduate from Brigham Young University in August) lives with... Director (and Heder's BYU classmate) Jared Hess makes the most of his indie-film limitations.
Audrey Rock-Richardson, Tooele Transcript-Bulletin (Utah):
The film's already a phenomenon, especially in Utah. 24-year-old director Jared Hess penned the script with his wife Jerusha; the two both studied film at Brigham Young University. The standards of that institution are apparent in "Napoleon Dynamite," which garnered national attention for being entertaining without including a single swearword. The movie stars another former BYU student, John Heder, as Napoleon...
Duane Dudek, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
...comes from Jared Hess, a Brigham Young University film graduate and writer-director making his feature film debut. Hess grew up in the same small Idaho town where the film was made and the characters and insights are an exaggerated version of the things he observed and the people he knows... main character, played by Jon Heder, a fellow BYU alumnus making his feature-film acting debut.
Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald:
As slight as the picture is, though, its hero is an indelible creation. Played by newcomer Jon Heder (a Brigham Young University student and former classmate of the director)...
Phil Villarreal, Arizona Daily Star:
Brigham Young University classmates Jared Hess and Jon Heder make what is essentially a student film, and they get the audience laughing harder than anything Will Ferrell and his studio machine can muster.
A.O. Scott, New York Times:
Mr. Hess, who studied film -- and met most of his cast and crew -- at Brigham Young University, has a lot of talent and also a lot to learn.
David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor:
Although several of the picture's creators hail from Brigham Young University in Utah, director Jared Hess filmed it in Preston, Idaho, where he grew up.
Nell Minow, Movie Mom at Yahoo! Movies:
This movie is the first feature from 24-year-old director Jared Hess, who wrote the film with his wife Jerusha. They met co-producer Jeremy Coon and 26-year-old John Heder at Brigham Young University. To put it in Napoleon's terms, they all got skills. I'm looking forward to whatever they do next.
Austin O'Connor, Lowell Sun:
This is [Hess's] feature-length debut, and he's filled the cast and crew with novices, mostly fellow students and friends from Brigham Young University, where Hess made a short film called Peluca, which was the basis for Dynamite... It's saved, mostly, by Heder, a first-time actor whom Hess plucked from BYU's animation program.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe:
Directed by Brigham Young University film graduate Jared Hess and written with his wife, Jerusha...
Larry Carroll, FilmStew.com
First-time director and co-writer Jared Hess (a 24-year-old Brigham Young University dropout with a $500 student film that got him into Hollywood and whose story is probably far more entertaining than that of Napoleon Dynamite's) is a gifted director...
Philip Martin, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
Set in a time-warped Idaho where the primary colors of the 1970s have yet to fade, the film -- directed by Jared Hess, a recent graduate of Brigham Young University...
Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune:
Hess, his co-writer wife Jerusha Hess and some buddies from Brigham Young University have imagined a screw-loose parody of the small Idaho city where Hess grew up.
Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press:
Directed by recent Brigham Young University graduate Jared Hess and cowritten with his wife Jerusha, "Napoleon Dynamite"...
Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews:
Former Brigham Young University student Jared Hess is the 24-year-old co-writer, along with his wife Jerusha, of Napoleon Dynamite, who makes his directing debut in this offbeat comedy...
James Verniere, Boston Herald:
...was written and directed by 24-year-old Jared Hess, an Idahoan dropout of Brigham Young University.
Susan Granger, www.susangranger.com:
Technically, it's a sequel. Actor Jon Heder played the same deadpan, socially-inept character, then named Seth, in a 2001 Brigham Young University student short called "Peluca."
Edwin Jahiel, Movie Reviews by Edwin Jahiel:
A first feature, apparently inspired by Mr. Hess's 9-minute short "Peluca. " Hess (now about 25) was born in Preston, Idaho --pop. under 5,000,--attended the film program at Utah's Brigham Young University (where he met his wife-to-be Jerusha,) and later worked in a few films as assistant cameraman and such jobs.
Max Braden, The Trades:
A Preston native, Jared Hess came up with the concept of "Napoleon Dynamite" while at Brigham Young University.
Ken Eisner, Georgia Straight:
The filmmakers, all in their early or mid-20s and mostly veterans, like writer-director Jared Hess, of Brigham Young University's film school, have taken a page from the twisted realism of Wes Anderson and Terry Zwigoff.
Melissa Levine, Dallas Observer:
It's Napoleon Dynamite--the first feature film from 24-year-old Brigham Young University student Jared Hess--and, if there is any justice, it's going to be huge.
Kernan, Guess the Gross:
The strangeness extends to the film's setting, a small town in Idaho on the Utah border, which looks entirely stuck in the 80's.
Gene Seymour, Newsday:
A colleague who saw "Napoleon Dynamite" six months ago at the Sundance Film Festival describes it as a typical off-the- wall festival entry that induces tears-down-your-face laughter in Utah's thin-air reaches. It's only closer to sea level, he says, that you wonder, in retrospect, if it was as funny as you remembered.
Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News:
Fox Searchlight purchased Napoleon at Sundance, where other indie comedies, including Happy, Texas and Super Troopers, have been snapped up only to die at the box office (that Utah altitude has a way of warping financial judgment).