January 29, 2008
Reviewer: Dylan de Thomas
Rating (out of 5): ***
The fiction-film debut of Spellbound director Jeffery Blitz, Rocket Science is, like its non-fiction predecessor, a finely wrought and authentic portrait of the world of unusual and gifted kids. Instead of plumbing the depths of the world of spelling bees this time around, Blitz tells a story about - among other things - high school debate teams.
The film follows one Hal Hefner, a high school outcast marked by a profound stutter, played to squirming perfection by Reece Thompson, as he tries to overcome his speech disorder by joining the competitive debate team at his New Jersey suburb's high school.
While you would be right if you noted that the film was somewhat derivative in its idiosyncratic style - at points, it hews closely to Rushmore and The Squid and the Whale - Blitz still pulls off much of his movie with aplomb. In particular, the movie was impressively unpredictable in its arc, avoiding the obvious standard tropes of the quirky-kid-underdog tale, like a Pump Up the Volume, for instance; the film follows its own route even when it feels like it could go in a more mawkish direction.
Blitz also clearly has a deft hand in dealing with his young actors; he elicits such strong performances from the all the young players involved (Tony Award-nominee Anna Kendrick is also great as Hal's tutor/rival/love interest) that their fine work alone is reason to watch this otherwise modest little flick.
And one other thing: it's rated R for no discernible reason, though perhaps an f-bomb was dropped or a joint rolled without my noticing.
Posted by cphillips at January 29, 2008 2:55 PM