Rocket Science

Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Starring: Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza.
Distributor: Hopscotch Films
Runtime: 97 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Sexual references and infrequent coarse language

Rocket Science is riding on the fact that Jeffrey Blitz made that delightful and frightening documentary Spellbound, the film about the national spelling bee competition and its effect on the contestants and their families. Blitz won the directing award at the Sundance Festival. This time the subject is junior debating and the film is a fiction rather than a documentary.

Many audiences will concentrate on the adolescent story, the focus on Reece Thompson as Hal Hefner who is a moody young man, clashing with his brother, saddled with a huge stuttering problem. Meanwhile, we see a number of high school students who are as dedicated to debate and preparation and delivery as were those young spellbound contestants. And the pace at which they deliver seems just too much, too fast to make debating sense: speed for speed’s rather than intelligence’s sake.

When a driven girl, frustrated at the champion surrendering the trophy that she coveted, picks Hal to be her associate, it is clear that there is trouble in store. He is clever but stuck on enunciating his words. He is also love-struck.

The audience around me was obviously very taken with Hal and his misadventures. I was wanting to do the same but found I was not drawn into the film. It’s not the subject, though watching such competitive kids become even obsessive can be wearing as well as their so breathless to be meaningless style. I think it was Hal himself. Reece Thompson did a very good job in performance but his belief that he could debate, his oddball work with a coach to help him get over his impediment, the cantankerous atmosphere in the house and the smug win-at-all-costs girl did not really appeal.

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