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ROCKET SCIENCE (2007) ** ½

 

If you loved such high school themed independent comedies like Rushmore, Juno or Election, you may enjoy this sporadically amusing teen angst comedy.  After her debating team partner chokes during a heated debate, the overtly ambitious Ginnie (Anna Kendrick) “ferrets out” new blood to join the team.  She picks Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a painfully shy freshman with a mercilessly bad stutter to be her new partner.  While this choice seems borderline cruel at first, there’s method in Ginnie’s madness as she slowly tries to coax Hal out of his shell and turn him into a full fledged debater.  He ends up falling hard for her and when Ginnie transfers to another school, a devastated Hal looks to an unlikely partner and an even more improbable cure for stuttering to give it all he’s got at the debating finals. 

 

Director Jeffrey Blitz, the man behind the spelling bee documentary Spellbound, knows the ins and outs of high school competitiveness and is deftly knowledgeable of the trials of tribulations of being a teenager.  Unfortunately Blitz never makes any of his characters sympathetic enough to fully draw the audience in.  (Hal is less sympathetic and more PATHETIC.  There’s a difference.) 

 

The performances are all solid.  Thompson takes what could’ve been an annoying performance and makes Hal into a fully fleshed character.  Kendrick is particularly winning as the venomous Ginnie whose motto is “Debating is life!” and Nicholas D’Agosto is excellent in his brief, but memorable role as the debating heartthrob that has a meltdown.   Jonah (Superbad) Hill also has a pretty funny cameo as a philosophy club snob. 

 

If Blitz didn’t keep the audience at an arm’s length away from his characters, Rocket Science could’ve been another Election.  As it is, it’s a still fairly entertaining, if uneven comedy. 

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