Rocket Science (2007)
Best film so far of 2007
For some, the joys of being a teenager include excelling at sports,
having a girlfriend or boyfriend, being part of a close circle of
friends, or just having fun. For others, there is only the constant
feeling of being an outsider looking in. For some, even the thought of
getting out of bed in the morning to go to school is filled with dread.
Case in point - Hal Hefner, a fifteen year old attending Plainsboro
High School in New Jersey, who is trying to make sense of growing up
but is burdened by a stutter so debilitating that he cannot even tell
the cafeteria worker at school that he wants pizza instead of fish.
Rocket Science, the second feature by Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound), who
overcame his own stuttering disability, is a teen comedy that
poignantly captures the painful loneliness of adolescence.
While on paper Rocket Science sounds like other coming of age films
such as Election and Rushmore, it manages to capture something unique
and very special about being a teenager without having to rely on
grossness, stereotypes, or implausible situations. Brilliantly played
by Vancouver actor Reece Thompson, Hal's sweetness and innocence is
totally captivating and we identify with his pain and root for him to
succeed. His family support, however, is virtually nonexistent. His
brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) is a compulsive thief and bully who calls
him by girls' names, his father has moved out of the house and his
mother (Lizbeth Bartlett) has a Korean boyfriend, a Small Claims judge,
(Steve Park) who laughs inappropriately and whose son Heston (Aaron
Yu), a bisexual, shows an unusual amount of interest in him.
Hal has a speech therapist, Mr. Lewinsky (Maury Ginsberg), but he is so
incompetent that he tells him that he wishes Hal was hyperactive so he
would know how to treat him. Under these circumstances, the last place
he would want to be is on the high school debating team, a collection
of driven, super-confident word magicians who can speak with authority
at breakneck speed on both sides of an issue. Surprisingly however, Hal
is recruited by top debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) to be her
debate partner after her former partner Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas
D'Agosto) went blank at last year's championship match.
Ginny, a charming but overly aggressive super student, tells Hal that
"deformed people" make good competitors because they have so much anger
to express. Hal's first inclination is to say no but he is so taken
with Ginny and flattered that someone could see some possibility in him
that he accepts. Giving it the old high school try, he stumbles badly
both in pursuing his romance and in debating the subject of sexual
abstinence in high school, so badly in fact that he often has to hide
in the janitor's closet from embarrassment.
Mr. Lewinsky advises Hal to try singing the words of the debate to the
tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic, or speaking with a foreign accent
and he does both with hilarious effect. Partly out of revenge and
partly out of desperation, he turns to failed debater Ben Wekselbaum,
now working in Trenton in a cleaners, to be his new partner after Ginny
transfers to a different school. The ending is ripe for the big debate
in which all the pieces fit neatly together but Blitz does not go
there. Instead he relies on the inner strength of the characters to see
them through, not on a contrived narrative.
While there are some predictably oddball characters like Philosophy
major Lionel (Jonah Hill), pint-sized Josh (Lewis Garrles) who spies on
Ginny for him (and models her bra that he has stolen), and an older
couple who practice the Kama Sutra and play Violent Femmes "Blister In
The Sun" duets on the cello and piano, Rocket Science has few false
notes. It is wise, honest, funny, touching, and painfully sad with
Oscar-caliber performances. It's not rocket science to figure out why
it is the best film so far of 2007.
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