A touching heartfelt drama, “Rocket Science” demonstrates that life is anything but an exact science. This edgy film, with its witty writing and thoughtful theme, celebrates the determination of a high school student trying to overcome his speech impediment.
Newcomer Reece Thompson plays Hal Hefner, a 15-year-old with a minor yet socially alienating disability, he stutters uncontrollably. Ordering pizza in the school cafeteria is an ordeal as he knows what he wants but can’t say the word. He lives in a dysfunctional family, his father moves out after a heated argument and his older brother terrorizes him by calling him a variety of girl’s names. When the school’s debate champion, Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) decides to draft Hal for the debate team, we feel his life as the under-dog may be changing. However, can he overcome this daunting obstacle?
The film’s opening scene is that of the New Jersey State debating finals where Ginny and her partner Ben (Nicholas D’Agosto) are on the road to winning the title. The scene illustrates the verbal dexterity required and sets up the hurdles Hal must face. Then he becomes smitten with Ginny Ryerson and is fully immersed in her ultra competitive world of high school debating.
The casting for this film is pitch perfect and Reece Thompson builds an endearing character around his affliction, one with a gnawing desire to connect with others. Anna Kendrick plays the ambitious femme fatale and her performance, a fascinating mixture of sensuality and conniving hardness, is the catalyst that drives this story to its conclusion. Nicholas D’Agosto is the mystery character in this movie and we wonder if the stress of competition has been his downfall. Is it the shame of failure or does he seek the tranquility of being a non-combatant? Either way, he’s an intriguing character that enables Hal to continue his quest. Aaron Yoo’s plays Hal’s Korean bi-curious friend Hesston and he steals many a scene with his weird comic touch. Vincent Piazza as Hal’s father vividly portrays a man descending and lost in a world of confusion and misery.
Making his feature narrative début, writer/director Jeff Blitz (Spellbound) perfectly captures the world of adolescent angst where everyone, regardless of age, is confused by desire and reaching out for human connection. The story is semi-autobiographical as Blitz, himself, stuttered while in high school. He decided to joined the debating team and several years later went on to win the New Jersey State Debating Championship. “Rocket Science” plays off the typical Hollywood archetypes and story expectations to present a touching film that is new, funny, and original.
CREDIT: Film stars Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Dionne Audain, John Patrick Barry, Lisbeth Bartlett, and Dan Deluca. Writer-director Jeffrey Blitz won the Dramatic Directing Award at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival for this coming-of-age story and is based in part on his own adolescence. Produced by Effie T. Brown and Sean Welch, Cinematographer Jo Willems, Production Designer Rick Butler, Editor Yana Groskaya. Rated R. 101 minutes. Available on DVD.