LOGAN – More than a thousand residents of northern Utah packed the Ellen  Eccles Theatre on May 8 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the movie Napolean Dynamite.

I went along for the ride – albeit reluctantly – because I had never understood the fascination with this indy film.

Sure, the movie was filmed in Preston by Jared and Jerusha Hess, a local couple – or at least a regional couple — who made good and have gone onto bigger and better things.

Napolean Dynamite also featured a local philanthropist and semi-celebrity – Mary Heers – briefly in a cameo role.

After watching the movie two or three times on television, however, I never “got” Napolean Dynamite, until I saw it in a crowded theatre.

The simple reality is that people are crazy about this movie; they absolutely love it. I can’t explain it and — after watching the anniversary screening here – I’m not going to bother to try, because I found myself loving it too.

How do you explain the phenomenon of a cult movie? It’s just something magical that happens between the screen and the audience.

In terms of enduring popularity, Napolean Dynamite ranks up there with The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but without all the sex and cynicism. Napolean Dynamite is just a quietly gentle movie with a curiously bittersweet ending.

The Cache Valley crowd laughed uproariously over and over again at all the seemingly banal jokes and gags. A bit ruefully, I found myself laughing with them.

Napolean Dynamite occasionally appears to be poking mild fun at the supposedly quaint residents of Preston. But the film wisely never condescends to them, so it’s all in good fun.

Despite being sometimes uncomfortable to watch, there’s plenty of humor in Napolean Dynamite, if you look for it from the necessary cockeyed perspective.

In the title role, Jon Heder is not an easy guy to like and rooting for his absolutely deadpan performance takes effort. But he’s a supremely nerdy geek and plays his part to perfection, like the rest of director Hess’s superb but largely unknown cast.

After the 20th anniversary screening, Heder took to the Eccles stage with co-star Efren Ramirez, who played the role of Pedro. They clowned around and answered questions from the audience for an hour.

During that interlude, it became quickly obvious that, even after 20 years, those actors loved being in Napolean Dynamite and treasured the part they played in making the film a cultural phenomenon.

If you missed the 20th anniversary celebration of Napolean Dynamite at the Eccles Theatre, don’t despair.

The city of Preston will host a “Napolean Fest” on Friday, July 26 and Saturday, July 27. The Preston Area Chamber of Commerce promises that “flipping sweet celebration will be a killer time.”

Information about the “Napolean Fest” can be found online at www.napoleanfest.com

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