Quirky, quirky, quirky goes Rocket Science. Round, round, round roll my eyes. For the follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated documentary Spellbound, Jeffrey Blitz goes the fictional route, albeit one still populated by wordsmith kids who like to show off their linguistic aptitude onstage. Taking a page or 30 from Wes Anderson and his legion of imitators, Blitz’s film concerns Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a nerdy Plainsboro, New Jersey high schooler whose name is meant as an ironic comment on his anti-playboy status. Hal has a miserable home life—separated parents, Mom dating a weird new boyfriend, and a thieving, bullying brother—and no social skills thanks in part to his intense stutter. His spirits take flight, however, when the older, ultra-confident Ginny (Anna Kendrick) handpicks him to be her protégé on the school debate team. The scent of love soon envelops Hal, yet like his dreams of romance, Rocket Science quickly turns decidedly stale, with Blitz regurgitating eccentric Anderson and Napoleon Dynamite aesthetics and Little Children‘s literary narration even as his story paradoxically concerns Hal’s attempt to find his own voice. Confused adolescent yearning (the debate team’s topic is abstinence), the need for reciprocated affection, and the incomprehensible strangeness of the world are concerns that largely and mercifully take precedence over cheap laughs at characters’ expenses, though Blitz has little to say about his themes that couldn’t easily fit on a Hallmark card. Minimal profundity would be a more tolerable shortcoming if not for the film’s general disinterest in believable characterizations or scenarios—the most egregious of which is Ginny’s interest in Hal, in any respect—as well as its abundant preciousness, which hits a peak right around the point a parental couple share come-hither looks while duetting on the Violent Femmes’s “Blister in the Sun”—one on the cello, the other on the piano. Thompson’s puppy-dog earnest performance offers enough genuinely frustrated angst to offset the phoniness of his weird-cute Jersey surroundings. Nonetheless, the predominant reaction elicited by Rocket Science as a whole falls somewhere between two differing assessments of Hal’s public speaking skills: “I’ve heard worse” and “Die.”
- Jeffrey Blitz
- Jeffrey Blitz
- Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza, Margo Martindale, Aaron Yoo, Josh Kay, Steve Park, Maury Ginsberg
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