Rocket Science

September 25, 2007

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RELEASED: September 28th

Spellbound, the award-winning documentary that gave viewers a look at the altogether odd American fascination with spelling bees, whose participants consisted mainly of extremely geeky children with well-off, unbearably pushy parents, was a offbeat, rather worrying film that instead of satirising this bizarre sub-culture took a more character-based angle.

Spellbound’s director Jeffrey Blitz has here written and directed his first fictional film, albeit based in part upon events in his own life: like Rocket Science’s main character, Hal Hefner, Blitz himself had a speech impediment and went someway to overcoming it by joining his High School debating team (High School debating teams are another of these all-American activities), which as designed helped his communication skills.

Hal is going through a difficult time in his life, commonly known as adolescence. His parents have split abruptly, and he is regularly bullied by his unlikeable older brother Earl.

But one day on the school bus home, the very clever and articulate Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) approaches him and tries to recruit him as her debating partner for the upcoming tournament, which she failed to win last year after her partner lost his nerve on stage. Quite why she asks a shy loner who finds it extraordinarily difficult to even start, let alone finish, a sentence is never really explained. Is it that she sees some potential in him? Or maybe, out of the kindest of her heart, thinks that this is the perfect opportunity for him to do something that could be therapeutic, help him overcome his stammer and prove himself as a proper human being? Or does she just fancy him?

The answer to all three is no. Or at least not really. The fact that there relationship, both work related and personal, ends so quickly and vaguely that you have no time to invest any real care into these characters, is another major flaw in the film’s already creaking structure. She then takes up with last year’s winner from the opposing team. How does he win her back? By seeking out the very person who let her down last time and asking him to partner him to win the tournament, of course.

Kendrick as Ginny is excellent, the standout in the cast. Reece Daniel Thompson as Hal, however, gives a peculiar performance full of mannerisms that don’t seem to fit even within his admittedly strange character, and is thus never entirely believable. The thing that lets Rocket Science down the most though is Blitz’s script – uncomfortable and unsatisfactory, and none of the characters have a proper journey throughout the story, as they simply go nowhere, much like the film.

Rocket Science shows very well how a speech impediment makes life uncomfortable and frustrating. It’s just a shame that watching this film delivers a similar experience.

THE CRUNCH

2/5  long difficult words

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