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  Rocket Science

Starring: Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Aaron Yoo

Directed by: Jeffrey Blitz

Produced by: Effie T. Brown, Sean Welch

Written by: Jeffrey Blitz
Distributor: Picturehouse


     Recalling the deviously sly Max Fischer from 1999’s Rushmore, the protagonist of Jeffrey Blitz’ Rocket Science isn’t instantly likable. In fact, viewers may not ever find the stuttering Hal Heffner (played by Reece Daniel Thompson) sympathetic by the time the film’s final frame rolls through the projector. Hal isn’t the type of character one might want to get up and hug at any point during the duration, but few high school students his age are. At times, Hal even seems ornately annoying, but this comes with the territory of “finding his voice,” as the film’s narrator elegantly puts it in the opening sequence.

     Hal speaks with a stutter and, in addition to the psychological harms of his dysfunctional family, this lends to him being a social outsider. Only his older brother Earl (Vincent Piazza), who constantly beats up on Hal out of confusion, is ever really there to talk to him. That is, until Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), the high school’s star debater, strangely recruits Hal to be her tournament-partner one day on the school-bus. Hal becomes obsessed with the image of Ginny, despite the fact that his stuttering lends itself to downright horrible debating abilities (almost certainly the kind that would lose the pair competitions). Hal is so enamored by Ginny, in fact, that after she finds him cowering from a practice-round in the school janitor’s closet, he tries to make out with her. This does not go well, to say the least. Hal later asks a Catholic schoolgirl if what he did with Ginny—“groping with breasts,” as he puts it—counts as “second base.” “Maybe in public school,” she retorts. Hal seeks revenge against an indifferent Ginny, who has since has switched schools and taken up a relationship with her new, ethnic debate partner.

     Director Jeffrey Blitz made the 2002 documentary Spellbound, which tackled the world of competitive spelling bees. Where that film was unfocused and rather dry, this one is riveting and layered. Blitz has found an anchor for his talents in the form of narrative drama. His screenplay is sharp and bitingly satirical, and his efficient direction holds the movie to a brisk 98-minute running-length. Blitz gets everything about Hal’s character right: while Hal may not be entirely sympathetic, he’s always empathetic, and this allows for a well-developed personality. If Rocked Science finds the large audience that Rushmore did, I suspect that Hal Hefner will join Max Fischer as one of the more-admired contemporary anti-heroes in cinema, much due to Blitz’ treatment of the character.

     Rocket Science’s ending, like much of the rest of the film, knowingly defies convention. This reaffirms the movie’s status as one of the more real—if entirely offbeat and quirky—motion pictures made about the high school experience. Blitz proves himself to be a highly promising director here, and his writing is also top-notch. Rocket Science is well worth seeing.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 8.20.2007

Screened on: 8.18.2007 at the Landmark Hillcrest in San Diego, CA.


Rocket Science is rated R and runs 98 minutes.

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