Rocket Science – A Review
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
For fans of: Coming of age films, Juno, The Basketball Diaries, Wide Awake
Hal Hefner has a stutter. So obviously he has to join the debate team. With partner Ginny, Hal learns that growing up for him is as hard as talking. Hal is part of one of the most dysfunctional families ever put to screen, including a mom who’s a nymphomaniac. There’s almost no chance for Hal, but his love for Ginny spurs him on.
THE UN-DISNEY FILM
This is the anti-Disney film about growing up. Disney takes the most handsome teenagers, with no acne and no problems, and puts them on TV to the delight of tweens who pretend their watching mirror images of themselves. Hal, however, has acne, and he has problems, and his friends (who aren’t super models) have problems. And that’s verisimilitude, which is what we want in a movie.
On the opposite side, it’s kind of cool to be dysfunctional these days. With the popularity of shows like The Middle, Raising Hope, and a myriad of others (starting with All in the Family and Roseanne), we like to laugh at how absurd and abnormal some people are. We laugh at poor people because they dumpster dive or eat strange foods; we laugh at rich people because they throw away perfectly good clothes and eat strange foods too. Rocket Science, however, treats Hal’s dysfunction with respect. His stutter isn’t played for laughs so much as it’s played for sympathy. His mom’s trysts may be funny, but they’re distasteful and feel shameful.
Director Jeffrey Blitz has a love for words. Although he’s directed Parks and Recreation as well as many episodes of the American version of The Office, he’s best known for Spellbound, one of the best documentaries ever made, and the only one about the spelling bee. In Spellbound (not to be confused with Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller of the same name, also worth watching with dream sequences designed and constructed by Salvador Dali) young teenagers stand in front of crowds and use words to win a competition. The same is true with Rocket Science. Hal uses words to win. In this case, however, he uses words to win more than just the debate (which, in fact, he does not), but to attempt at winning the heart of Ginny.
Losing is not always a loss. There are movies that have happy endings, movies that have sad endings, and then there movies that have evident endings. Much like life, which is remembered in chunks, in pieces, and not always as arcs, Rocket Science dares to end as it began: with a boy who’s growing up.
This is a good movie from a first time director. Give it a try: 7.5