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Arts & Culture

Rocket Science

Rocket Science (Picturehouse)

Jinny : "Recruiting. Ferreting out the debating talent. I ferreted you."
Hal : "You mean public speaking? I dont think so."
Jinny : "Suit yourself but deformed people are the best. They have a deep reserve of anger to draw on."

So Hal joins the debate team but not with the results that you'd expect. Hal doesn't miraculously transform into a fast-talking, articulate debator. Contrary to Hollywood conventions, he actually has a few disasters that prompt some less than helpful guidance from his counselor.

Counselor : "Just because debate was a wipe out youre not a failure. The event failed you. Go back to way you were before you tried to exceed your limitations."

Jeffrey Blitz writes and directs Rocket Science with flair and assurance. He's probably best known for the award-winning documentary Spellbound , which looked at a group of kids competing for a spelling bee. In Rocket Science, he ventures into somewhat similar ground, dealing with young people, competition and language. In a wonderful opening montage, Blitz introduces us to the world of debate where kids wield "words like weapons and ideas like axes." I met Blitz at the Comic-Con last month where he was roaming around the dealers room. When I asked him if there was a panel for his film, he said that it was deemed "too small" by the studio to merit a panel. But that's a shame because the film would have found a friendly crowd at Comic-Con where they have embraced films like Donnie Darko and Napoleon Dynamite -- small films that strike a chord about what it's like to be a teenager. Plus Rocket Science is smart, funny, and genuine. It avoids a pat Hollywood ending for something richer and more satisfying.

Reece Thompson (center) stars as Hal Hefner in Rocket Science. (Picturehouse)

As Hal, Thompson is great. He hasn't done much before this, mostly bit parts on TV, so he's a very fresh face. He was so good at the stuttering that I heard people in the audience try to finish his sentences for him as he stammered through his debate; they were leaning forward in their seats and yelling out the words he was stuck on. I think that reveals the fine job Blitz and Thompson did in creating Hal. All the actors in the film were very good, and they made a great ensemble.

I also wanted to mention that the film uses music well, whether it's the quirky score that humorously conveys Hal's awkwardness or the pop songs of the Violent Femmes that accurately convey teen feelings.

Rocket Science (rated R for some sexual content and language) is a wonderfully surprising teen film that more than makes grade.

Companion viewing: Thumbsucker , Igby Goes Down , The Squid and the Whale