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Coming of age in Plainsboro, New Jersey. High school student Hal Hefner stutters. On the evening his parents stop arguing and separate, 43 miles away at the state tournament, his school's legendary debater, Ben Wekselbaum, goes blank mid-sentence, Ben's teammate Ginny Ryerson doesn't get a first-place trophy, and the world changes. That fall, to Hal's amazement, Ginny recruits him for the debate team, mentors him, and will be his partner. He still has his stutter, but he works hard and he falls in love with Ginny. On the day of the first debate of the season, the world changes again. From then until the day of the state tournament, Hal has a lot to sort out. Is love rocket science? Written by
When Hal first enters the Luis Dry Cleaners in "Trenton," a Baltimore City Police van drives past behind him. See more »
Resolved: that Hal Hefner should really stop letting the world tell him what's possible and try to find out for himself. Maybe that's just a life's philosophy suited only to some of us, those who cherish winning. So maybe it's not for you. But I think it is.
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For some, the joys of being a teenager include excelling at sports, having a girlfriend or boyfriend, being part of a close circle of friends, or just having fun. For others, there is only the constant feeling of being an outsider looking in. For some, even the thought of getting out of bed in the morning to go to school is filled with dread. Case in point - Hal Hefner, a fifteen year old attending Plainsboro High School in New Jersey, who is trying to make sense of growing up but is burdened by a stutter so debilitating that he cannot even tell the cafeteria worker at school that he wants pizza instead of fish. Rocket Science, the second feature by Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound), who overcame his own stuttering disability, is a teen comedy that poignantly captures the painful loneliness of adolescence.
While on paper Rocket Science sounds like other coming of age films such as Election and Rushmore, it manages to capture something unique and very special about being a teenager without having to rely on grossness, stereotypes, or implausible situations. Brilliantly played by Vancouver actor Reece Thompson, Hal's sweetness and innocence is totally captivating and we identify with his pain and root for him to succeed. His family support, however, is virtually nonexistent. His brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) is a compulsive thief and bully who calls him by girls' names, his father has moved out of the house and his mother (Lizbeth Bartlett) has a Korean boyfriend, a Small Claims judge, (Steve Park) who laughs inappropriately and whose son Heston (Aaron Yu), a bisexual, shows an unusual amount of interest in him.
Hal has a speech therapist, Mr. Lewinsky (Maury Ginsberg), but he is so incompetent that he tells him that he wishes Hal was hyperactive so he would know how to treat him. Under these circumstances, the last place he would want to be is on the high school debating team, a collection of driven, super-confident word magicians who can speak with authority at breakneck speed on both sides of an issue. Surprisingly however, Hal is recruited by top debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) to be her debate partner after her former partner Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto) went blank at last year's championship match.
Ginny, a charming but overly aggressive super student, tells Hal that "deformed people" make good competitors because they have so much anger to express. Hal's first inclination is to say no but he is so taken with Ginny and flattered that someone could see some possibility in him that he accepts. Giving it the old high school try, he stumbles badly both in pursuing his romance and in debating the subject of sexual abstinence in high school, so badly in fact that he often has to hide in the janitor's closet from embarrassment.
Mr. Lewinsky advises Hal to try singing the words of the debate to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic, or speaking with a foreign accent and he does both with hilarious effect. Partly out of revenge and partly out of desperation, he turns to failed debater Ben Wekselbaum, now working in Trenton in a cleaners, to be his new partner after Ginny transfers to a different school. The ending is ripe for the big debate in which all the pieces fit neatly together but Blitz does not go there. Instead he relies on the inner strength of the characters to see them through, not on a contrived narrative.
While there are some predictably oddball characters like Philosophy major Lionel (Jonah Hill), pint-sized Josh (Lewis Garrles) who spies on Ginny for him (and models her bra that he has stolen), and an older couple who practice the Kama Sutra and play Violent Femmes "Blister In The Sun" duets on the cello and piano, Rocket Science has few false notes. It is wise, honest, funny, touching, and painfully sad with Oscar-caliber performances. It's not rocket science to figure out why it is the best film so far of 2007.
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