a SIFF 2007 review
Wonderful Rocket Science Top of the Class
Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) doesnít feel like heís destined for greatness. His stuttering problem makes it nearly impossible for this bright and intellectually acute High School to answer questions in class let alone order a piece of pizza from the belligerent lunch lady. His older brother Earl (Vincent Piazza), a bit of an obsessive-compulsive as well as a budding kleptomaniac, tends to push him around mercilessly, while the abrupt breakup of parents Juliet (Lisbeth Bartlett) and Daryl (Dennis OíHare) certainly doesnít help with the boyís self-esteem.
Reece Thompson in Picturehouse's Rocket Science
But things start looking up when the unthinkable happens. The highly driven and extremely articulate Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), star member of the school debate team, claims to see magnetic potential in this awkward mess of a student. She convinces a highly adoring Hal to become her partner, claiming she can mold and train him to overcome his disabilities and become a champion.
Needless to say, the young man is immediately smitten. The road ahead is not exactly what it seems, however, and soon Hal has his dreams of love shattered and his hopes for debating brilliance brutally hindered. Soon heís searching out Ginnyís former partner the brilliant (if disgraced) Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas DíAgosto) for help, the two of them coming up with a plan of attack that could see both their futures changed forever.
I loved Jeffrey Blitzís Rocket Science. For one thing, this is one of the few movies in recent memory that I have seen where I actually didnít know what was going to happen next. Every time I thought the filmmakerís script was going to fall into either clichť or familiarity the film suddenly took a right turn towards something completely different. I was fascinated by both the story being told and with the characters inhabiting it, the movie so universal and emotionally complex I was almost overwhelmed by its colorfully dexterous power.
Who knew Blitz had a fictional debut like this one in him? I liked his Spelling Bee documentary Spellbound as much as anyone, but I still didnít think heíd be capable of taking a genre as familiar and routine as this and spin it on its ear quite so splendidly. These kids arenít your typically irregular High School comedy regulars chasing their hormonal impulses with impudent gross-out glee, they are instead real people dealing with all the cruel uncertainties and glorious possibilities adolescence offers. I knew these guys, went to school with them, was probably even one of them at one time, so watching Hal deal with everything spiraling chaotically around him was both painful and cathartic all at once.
Obviously this doesnít make the film an always easy or comfortable experience. More, the lead-up to the (admittedly brilliant) climax is a tad rushed and a bit unfocused, Benís solutions to help Hal overcome his stuttering ingenious if a bit out of left field. A couple of other moments also seemed overly cruel to me, and while I realize they were necessary to facilitate our heroís transformation that still didnít make them any easier to watch.
But all of this is okay because Blitz gets so much right a couple missteps arenít about to derail the pictureís success. This is one of the more remarkable and fascinatingly intoxicating debuts Iíve seen all year. It is a rousing adventure of personal discovery impossible to resist, both Thompson and Kendrick so good I canít wait to see what either of them does next. Add all this together and Rocket Science isnít just at the top of its class, it also deserves a gold star.
Film Rating: ÍÍÍ1/2 (out of 4)
- Rocket Science Theatrical Trailer