Rocket Science

Rocket Science


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) has a stutter. Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) has a Type-A personality, a tendency to overachievement, and a problem. Jeffrey Blitz, who writes and directs, has talent.

This is a high school movie, an American Indie high school movie, an American Indie high school debate movie set in New Jersey. It's winsome, witty, and charming, and an impressive fiction debut for Blitz. His only previous cinematic release was the Oscar-nominated documentary Spellbound, and Rocket Science is a worthy successor.

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After Ginny's debate partner, the legendary Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) falls silent at the State Final, she finds herself with a space in her trophy shelf, and a need. She has determined that she can and will win with the right partner, and she can make that partner from the right kind of clay. A Frankenstein with a proposition to argue, and in search of a monster she picks Hal.

Hal's brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) is a kleptomaniac loon with an agenda, his home life is a mess, his step-brother Heston (Aaron Yoo) is fey and odd, and he has a stutter that defies treatment, an inescapable stutter that stifles his ability to express himself. He has a lot to express. It's a stutter that he struggles against, a wall that he bangs his head against again and again, for himself, for Ginny, for all manner of reasons. His struggle with his stutter is the heart of the film, and it will touch yours.

The film is narrated by Dan Cashman, probably more famous for his work in audiobooks than his succession of bit parts. In his seventies, he brings a gravelly gravitas to the film, and while many a movie has been ruined by narration Rocket Science is strengthened by it - it's an authorial, establishing voice, perfectly judged in tone and style, an avuncular, conspiratorial aside. It's a marked and well judged contrast to Hal's trouble with speaking, sure-footed and silver-tongued.

This is a winsome, shoe-gazing sort of film, with a soundtrack featuring the Violent Femmes. What makes it endearing will doubtless make it infuriating to some, but those that could like it will like it a lot. The debaters speak faster than seems sensible, and from their mouths spills a script of high quality, ably and touchingly portrayed by the young cast. Hal weathers the vicissitudes of his existence badly, but in his hope, and in his despair, there is humour and empathy. This is a gem of a film, well observed and entertaining.

Reviewed on: 24 Aug 2007
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A teenager is determined to join his high school debating team despite his stutter.
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Director: Jeffrey Blitz

Writer: Jeffrey Blitz

Starring: Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza, Margo Martindale

Year: 2007

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US

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