There were a number of teen angst movies this past year — Eagle vs. Shark, Superbad — but the one I thought brought the most originality to a very watered down genre was Jeffrey Blitz‘s Rocket Science, and seeing it again just reaffirms my belief. Armed with great writing, a humorous yet sensitive performance by the talented Reece Daniel Thompson as the film’s unorthodox lead Hal Hefner, and an amazing score by Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay, the film is a smart and funny look at the awkward high school years.
The film begins with ace debater Ben (Nicholas D’Agosto) cruising to win the New Jersey state championship when he abruptly stops in mid-sentence, crushing the dreams of his teammate/girlfriend, Ginny (Anna Kendrick). Across town things also go silent at the Hefner household as Hal’s father walks out on them. These two separate incidents starts Hal’s journey to young adulthood, and finding his own voice.
And Hal needs a voice. Along with being unpopular, he has a stutter which makes it hard for him to order what he wants for lunch let alone joining the debate team, which he does after Ginny offers him a chance to join the team. Hal builds up the nerve to do it, mostly because he wants to get in her pants.
Ginny shows Hal the ropes of debating leading up to them teaming up at a regional tournament. This is where the film takes off as Hal realizes he’s been duped by Ginny as she transfers to a rival school leaving Hal to fend for himself and leading to a hilarious scene where he tries to speak in an accent to overcome his stutter at the tournament. Later he gets drunk and bikes to Ginny’s house looking for payback while Clem Snide plays in the background. Once the haze lifts Hal realizes the only way to get back at Ginny is to team up with Ben to win states.
Blitz, whose previous film was the popular doc Spellbound, creates a well polished narrative, filled with witty dialogue. But it’s the performance by Thompson, who’s pretty much in every scene, that makes the film work.
With only a making-of featurette and Barzel music video for “I Love The Unknown,” there isn’t much to the features. HBO Video releases the DVD tomorrow for $27.95.