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Rocket Science

The Mysteries of Life

In 2002, the fascinating documentary, Spellbound, focusing on the 1999 National Spelling Bee caught the attention of countless moviegoers and the Academy resulting in an Oscar nomination for debut director Jeffrey Blitz. Spellbound was a breakout hit that engaged and entertained largely because of the quirky and endearing kids who participated in the competition. Blitzís love and affection for the awkward, unusual (but highly intelligent) young adult continues; albeit in a slightly different fashion in the painfully comical coming of age feature, Rocket Science.

Young Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) is a sweet, intelligent boy cursed with a stuttering problem of epic proportions. As if this handicap wasnít enough, his parents just recently divorced, his brother torments him ceaselessly, and lunchtime at school is about as pleasant as a colonoscopy.

It is with no small degree of surprise that Hal finds himself being recruited for the debate team by the Łber-smart (and cute) Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick). Ginny woos Hal with the claim that those who are a bit handicapped/challenged tend to be the best debaters. Independent of this compelling argument, Ginnyís striking features act as a pretty powerful catalyst for Hal to explore the idea of becoming an eloquent orator. Naturally, things get complicated.

What ensues is a staggeringly funny and quirky coming of age/lust story that should resonate for anyone who has felt the least bit awkward or out of place in their formative years. In other words, pretty much everyone should be able to identify with Rocket Science.

Hal could easily have been an older version of one of the quirkier spelling bee contestants from Spellbound. Reece Thompson is fantastic in his turn as Hal; he is the personification of teenage awkwardness and angst. Itís cringe inducing to watch him attempt to debate, but his courage in giving it a shot never fails to inspire.

Unfortunately, there are few places where Hal can find solace. His maternal unit is checked out and thinks tuna casserole is a Korean entrťe. His brother suffers from OCD and is a kleptomaniac. To boot, Halís biological father is largely absent (can you really blame someone for wanting some space from a family like this?). Thus, Hal is left to his own devices to stagger his way through the painful lessons of adolescence and first infatuation.

Rocket Science has the kind of awkwardly painful adolescent humor that reminds one of films like Little Miss Sunshine, Rushmore or Thumbsucker. All of the characters populating the film are flawed in some fairly significant ways (in most cases), but director Jeffrey Blitz brilliantly draws all of his characters in three dimensions and inevitably we come to find more than a few things redeeming (if not lovable) in all of them. Jeffrey Blitzís feature debut is a winner any way you slice it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars