In Jeffrey Blitz’s exceptionally quirky debut narrative feature “Rocket Science,” (2007) many themes arise in similarity to the director’s earlier documentary effort “Spellbound” (2002). The films can be seen as companion pieces in different strains, the later focusing on the pressures of a contest, the former on the pressures of life itself.
The challenges that come afoot during one’s secondary schooling are legion, and the many filmmakers who mirror their own experiences onto their characters (John Hughes kick-started this tradition with “Sixteen Candles”) are never without hard-to-watch storylines. Blitz continues this tradition with concise direction of talented actors.
The protagonist is Hal Hefner, played by the television-based actor Reece Thompson (“The 4400,” “Smallville,” and many others), and one day on the bus he is preyed upon by the school’s top debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick).
Before we continue, one must be aware that Hefner is a seemingly incurable stutterer, but is equipped with what he deems to be a wry sense of humor. This makes for some of the most discomforting dialogue sequences in recent teen flick memory.
After a humiliating defeat at the previous year’s state championship, where her whiz partner, the slick-tongued Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto), came to the realization as he was closing in on the title, that the whole thing was a pointless charade. Suddenly stopping mid-sentence, he effectively gave the trophy to the opposing school. Ginny becomes desperate to reclaim her superiority, and back on the bus convinces Hal of his potential when she says “deformed people” are always the best. “It must be their deep source of anger.”
Completely infatuated, Hal falls for Ginny and her rifling speech patterns. He looks up to her as nature’s perfect creation, and decides to make a move, but Ginny is seemingly not prepared to get so close, and in response leaves the team for a rival school.
On top of this, Hal’s home life is shit. Lacking the support of a father (or mother) figure and being forced to fend for himself, he manages to survive on his own.
Not willing to give in so easily, he goes in search of the legend. Wekselbaum, now living alone, is found working happily at a cleaners in the slums of Trenton, N.J., and it is here that Hal plans to stage a comeback to prove his worth—but to whom?
At first, it is easy to think Blitz is simply jumping on the awkward bandwagon, joining the likes of “Napoleon Dynamite,” “Rushmore” and others in order to get a ticket to Hollywood — and he may very well be. A closer look at Hefner, however, may reveal an impetus somewhat less shallow.
Blitz is trying to tell us something momentous here about the importance of humanity’s capability for speech in that it doesn’t matter how many 15-letter words we can blurt out in perfect sibilance in front of large crowds, but rather what you do with the knowledge you gain and the words you do—eventually—speak.