After her high school champ debating partner Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) dries up mid championship, Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) inexplicably recruits the most unlikely candidate for public speaking: the stuttering Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson), who has just endured his parents' angry break-up. Her rationale is that the best debaters are the ones with something to prove. Smitten by Ginny, Hal succumbs to training, but his first go is a disaster ... although it leads to an unexpected and auspicious kiss. But then things don't go according to plan - neither does his nascent relationship Ginny - and Hal faces big new challenges, as well as his annoying older kleptomaniac bother Earl (Vincent Piazza), on the way to next year's debating championship.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The coming of age genre is a favourite of American filmmakers, hoping to capture the lucrative 18 - 24 market ... and perhaps because many are still close to the age group and invest their films with the golden glow of nostalgia. Rocket Science introduces us to a stuttering high school anti-hero in Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson), who is experiencing all the pain and humiliation of adolescence, made worse by his parents ugly break up.
The film piles it on with him subjected to visiting Korean school friends whose divorced dad is now having an affair with Hal's mum. It's asking too much of the poor kid, and he is on the verge of meltdown when the lovely Ginny Ryerson, champion debater, sidles up to him on the school bus and asks him to join her team, where a vacancy has been created by the sudden stage-death of her hero partner, Ben (Nicholas D'Agosto). She assures him that she's made the right choice because she believes he will fight harder; people with a disability are tougher fighters.
The film takes an unexpected trajectory from here, sending Hal into a series of incidents that are part of the chain reaction that began with Ben's drying up in the opening debate. As the narration (voiced by Dan Cashman) points out, that's when it all began for Hal, a series of events that changed the world. Well, his world.
Although not entirely successful and not nearly riveting enough, Rocket Science has a worldly charm and some fine performances, notably by the acclaimed Anna Kendrick. Thompson is fine as the stuttering Hal, although stuttering characters seldom make effective screen characters, as their affliction is a constant distraction.
To its credit the film doesn't end predictably, and the lasting mood is both playful and sincere. But it doesn't inspire audiences to start debating.
First published in the Sun-Herald
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ROCKET SCIENCE (M)
CAST: Nicholas D'Agosto, Anna Kendrick, Reece Daniel Thompson, Margo Martindale, Vincent Piazza, Denis O'Hare, Jonah Hill
NARRATION: Dan Cashman
PRODUCER: Effie T. Brown, Sean Welch
DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Blitz
SCRIPT: Jeffrey Blitz
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jo Willems
EDITOR: Yana Gorskaya
MUSIC: Eef Barzelay
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Butler
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 10, 2010 (Melbourne: Kino Cinemas); June 17, 2010 (Sydney & Brisbane: Palace Cinemas)