Rocket Science Review
Maybe it’s the soothing narrator’s voice, or the well-constructed shots, but within the first few minutes of Rocket Science you won’t so much hear distant echoes of Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach, as you will their talented voices screaming relentlessly in your ears. And if those two names are somewhat obscure, think Royal Tenenbaums and the Squid and the Whale, and you’ll start to get the idea. The only thing is, those two names had nothing to do with this movie. In actuality, Jeffrey Blitz, the highly esteemed director of Spellbound and even a few episodes of The Office, pieced this film together himself. This is no major gripe by any concern, however it is safe to say that numerous film purists may consider the combination of styles to be somewhat pirated, and thereby write off the entire film as a hackneyed mess. What those, I assume film majors, will miss out on however is the thoroughly unique and meaningful subject matter the film manages to grasp through storytelling.
The story of Rocket Science is one that is hard to describe without making it sound like a trite “after school drama.” The film’s profile summarizes it by giving the initial prospects for the main character Hal Hefner, who suffers from the plagues of both stuttering and attending high school. He is confronted by the success driven, but beautiful, Ginny Ryerson who recruits Hal for the debate team. It’s an unlikely choice, however everyone needs someone to believe in. It’s only after watching Rocket Science do we understand exactly how tragic that prospect is for everyone involved; because while the first half of this film is a by-the-books high school comedy, the second half is something entirely different. Hal does learn the core lessons inherit with coming of age; high school is pointless, families are crazy, and women are generally evil, but he also learns something else along the way, and it is a redeeming piece of knowledge that no one should be without.
The movie also manages to be hilarious. While the subject matter would liken the movie to consistently make fun of the protagonist and his unfortunate speech impediment, the film handles the characters with a certain amount of tenderness rarely depicted. You won’t hear Billy Madison yelling “Ta-ta-ta-TODAY JUNIOR!” (no matter how much I wanted him to), but you will witness Hal attempt to edge his way around tight situations with hilarious consequences. It’s right here where the film really takes off. The film is not so much about what the characters say, but what they intend to say and how they avoid it. You have to look closely, very closely, and you’ll notice the way Hal manages to avoid certain consonants and letters to say what he wants. To say the acting is superb is an understatement, because you can literally see the kid think through each word. Jeffrey Blitz, a former student with a severe speech impediment, intimately understands and captures the frustrations inherit with the plight. Instead of saying “no thanks,” Hal resorts to saying, “I, I, my plate is kind of full.” It is a subtle difference, but it is essential to the characters way of life. But that struggle for the right word is exactly what the film is all about, finding your own voice instead of borrowing someone else’s.
By this point, it’s easy to say the film is well written. My only argument is that perhaps it is better suited to its written form. Rocket Science is already such a literary film, it’s a wonder the movie was not a book in the first place. Perhaps the film’s subtle moments would have worked better within a hardcover binding. However, that’s a minor gripe to say the least, especially if you were to consider they’d make a movie out of it anyway. At least this way the film will reach a wider audience.
While the film does initially appear to be “Rushmore: Part II,” Rocket Science eventually rises above that image to reveal a thoroughly unique, and stuttering, voice. Without a doubt, you should see it. As Hal points out, “It’s not rocket, rocket, it’s not rocket.” S-s-s-SCIENCE JUNIOR! Oh, sorry…