Top 100 American Movie Quotes of the 21st Century: #78

The actor:Aaron Ruell
The character:Kip
The film:Napoleon Dynamite
The quote:“Your mom goes to college.”

Oh, does she ever.

I haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite since I was in high school, and if God is merciful I won’t have to see it again for a very long time. A lot of this movie feels a lot like it was made by folks who graduated from BYU’s film school, which, you have to go somewhere, and yet…I dunno, “LaFawnduh” isn’t getting funnier. The funniest stuff in this movie has a lot more to do with adults (Uncle Rico doing anything, Napoleon and Kip’s mom with her shotgun traumatizing a school bus full of children) than the stuff with Jon Heder. But man, every now and then this movie just does something supremely satisfying, and nowhere is that more true than in this marvelously delivered line by Aaron Ruell.

He’s not even on screen when he says it, which I’d forgotten about. One of the better shots in the film is of Tina “NBC’s Alice in Wonderland 1999” Majorino standing in the door with this sad purple case wide open as it gets, all the shelves sticking out, little neon doodads sticking out neatly but soullessly. Napoleon does not want any, as he’s made “infinity” of them, but she wants to know if someone else is at home; she’s trying to earn money to go to college. And then, this little weasel voice, smug, like it’s some ghost in the Dynamite home who’s been waiting for this moment since he first began haunting the place: “Your mom goes to college.”

Napoleon Dynamite is famously murder on streaming algorithms, which is funny because so much of this movie presages The Office after that short first season. There’s no Jim to be found in this film, but otherwise it’s easy to see an Idaho full of Michaels and Dwights (and a Pam, in Deb) locking horns with one another while also finding companionship with one another because no one else can stand them. Awkward jokes, protagonists who we are not merely going to laugh at but invited to a party where we are supposed to do little else. (In retrospect, it is little wonder that so many sitcoms have simply skipped the bit where we find these people vapid and lunatic and have fast forwarded to treating them like they’re recently discovered cousins at a family reunion.) Napoleon Dynamite is good at this vibe, but “Your mom goes to college” is such a perfect distillation of this approach we’re supposed to take as an audience, just like “That’s what she said” used to be when we associated it first with Todd Packer. And as we’ve gotten further from both Napoleon Dynamite and The Office, they’ve become embossed little catchphrases for the DVD cases.

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