Name of film: PELUCA
Director/Writer: Jared Hess & Jerusha Hess
Year of production: 2002
Length: 9 minutes
Source: NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (DVD Special Features)
This short film is about Seth on one of his better days. Beleaguered Seth offers his high school bullies a lot of ammunition, all owing to an unawareness that endears him to the film’s audience. Errant hair, ungainly glasses, a slack jaw and sleepy eyes compound Seth’s lack of fashion and his interest in the nerdier aspects of teenage life, like numchucks.
Seth’s reputation precedes him, giving the viewer a greater sense of sympathy and interest in Seth and the day-to-day life of a misfit. The film opens onto grainy Idaho flatland and Seth, looming over a low-angle shot, waiting for a rural school bus to make its stop. He takes the rear-most seat next to two primary school boys who ask him what he’s going to do today. “Whatever I want to, gosh!” is Seth’s reply, made famous in the cult-hit NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, which is based on PELUCA. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE takes more than the idea of telling a rural misfit’s story from the short. Along with the premise it takes Seth, with a name change, elements of the plot, and even the director/writer, Jared Hess, and a couple of actors from the short, including Jon Heder, who lived next door to me our sophomore year at BYU. (There it is, only one degree from Kevin Bacon.) Both the short and the feature were shot on location in Preston Idaho using local actors (cashier, high schoolers), props (the same manikin) and locations (the same thrift shop).
But not the same budget. After seeing the student film PELUCA at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah, Fox Searchlight Pictures retained Jared Hess to make the feature film, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. That in itself was one moment to celebrate for the writer/producer, who made the short for a college class on a $500 budget in two days. The second celebratory moment can be tallied in dollar signs after the feature grossed millions in ticket and DVD sales (not to mention sales of action figures, t-shirts—“Vote for Pedro”—and other paraphernalia). If all of this were not enough, the Idaho State legislature drafted and accepted a resolution “to recognize and commend Jared and Jerusha Hess for their cinematic talents by which they have increased the nation’s awareness of Idaho.”
They should also receive praise for increasing the nation’s awareness in general of the geek in all of us. After seeing this film for the first time I kept my date waiting in the lobby as I screened myself for chinks in my exterior that might betray the chinks of my interior. I wrote above that Seth’s vulnerability to bullying derived from a nascent unawareness of what’s cool, and that our sympathy originates from that very unselfconscious carriage, but I amend that statement to suggest that it’s not Seth’s unawareness that makes him interesting to us as a character but rather the kind of hyperconsciousness that kept my date waiting in the lobby while I struggled to make the thin line between cool and uncool darker, thicker, impervious.