Sunday, April 4, 2010

Archive: "Rocket Science" (2007)

It seems that the theme of movies lately has dealt with the geeks rising up and having a say in things. Similar in the way the recent comedy smash hit "Superbad" addressed the blunt awkwardness of high school, this movie shows the geeky side of school where there are different levels of cool even amongst the overall aura of uncool. It's about the range of popularity amongst nothing more than the debate team, which vacates all of the usual high school cliches. It makes for an open yet exaggerated look into the lives of a couple ordinary teenagers, or at least teenagers who are doing their very best to be as ordinary as they can. I've been a bit off on my indie scouting lately, but then again, maybe not because I did manage to stumble across this treat of an indie film; it's one of the best I've seen in months.

The movie opens at the finish of an intense debate tournament where contestant Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) is witnessing her partner, Ben Wekselbaum, freeze up at the last minute. She is stuck with the second place trophy, a sense of devastation, and a partner who leaves school to work at a dry cleaning shop. Enter Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a small and timid student who has a hard time saying exactly what's on his mind. He has things to say, but the words get caught in his throat. He practices ordering pizza on the bus to school, but when it comes time to order in line at the cafeteria, he stutters uncontrollably. And then one day Ginny sits next to him on the bus and asks him to join the debate team. She claims to see greatness in him, the sort of potential that could build up to the quality of her last partner. Maybe that's not the real reason she invited him, and maybe she has other reasons of her own. Either way, it's not what we are expecting.

Soon after the invite, Hal begins falling for Ginny. It's not that he even likes her, but it's simply that he sees something new in her. He likes the idea of love and having a love interest, something that his parents failed at. Hal's dad walked out on his marriage to kick off all of the problems to come. His mom started dating a naive but kind Korean judge whose son is a friend of Hal's, but their relationship lacks something, as well. His older brother Earl has small flashes of compassion towards Hal between the abusive put downs. And so, Hal resorts to going to the house across the street from Ginny's, where he can privately long for her with Ginny's obsessive neighbor. Hal's frustration results in him heaving a cello through her front window.

So, does she feel the same way about him? Well, it's hard to tell with her snidely quick-witted and fast-paced style of talk, which every single debate kid somehow has to acquire. After a lunge and a grab of a kiss in the janitor's closet (where Hal consistently takes refuge), the two of them part ways for some time, which leaves Hal eventually researching for the debate in the library alone. It's here that there's a humorously ironic cameo here by "Superbad"'s Jonah Hill. Anyway, there are bits of something to like and dislike in each and every character through all of their clever eccentricities. There are great performances, as well, from relatively new and young actors Anna Kendrick and Reece Thompson who both hold their own.

"Rocket Science" gets its title from the touching conversation Hal has with his father at the end of the movie. It's another one of those moments where an adolescent is simply trying to figure out what it all means. The movie is a dryly observed comedy-drama that is odd, charming, and funny. It comes from writer-director Jeffrey Blitz who did the Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound," so he knows a thing or two about stressed-out overachievers. "Rocket Science" was this year's Sundance crowd-pleaser, and that's really no shock because it's a movie that definitely satisfies with its honest and quirky delights.

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