Rocket Science

Rocket Science

Film review by: Witney Seibold


            The first shot of “Rocket Science” is a pair of teenagers necking in an empty balcony. There are several scenes of teenagers and adults publicly necking in “Rocket Science.” Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) is not doing a lot of necking. His mom (Lisbeth Bartlett) is doing a lot with her new boyfriend (Steve Park). His older brother (Vincent Piazza) talks about it a lot. Even his crush (Anna Kendrick) gets some considerable makeout time. But Hal is still working out how to order the right lunch item without stammering, much less talk to a girl.

            Hal Hefner represents the kind of 14-year-old high school student that we all try to forget we were: mawkish, awkward, totally lacking in social skills, not entirely sure why we do what we do, and barely scraping by as an acceptable human being. We eventually forget or mythologize our high school days. “Rocket Science” is here to remind us of some of the more cathartic/painful stuff.


            The story: Hal’s dad (Denis O’Hare) has recently left. His mom quickly takes on a new man, and their amorous overtures are plentiful. Hal is approached one day by Ginny (Kendrick), his school’s debate champion. Ginny is the kind of overambitious go-getter that we all hated in high school, but I, personally always secretly had a crush on. She claims that, despite his awkwardness and painful stutter, he’d make a grand debate champion. They are soon studying together a lot, and Hal finds he is coming out of his shell. Well, maybe not coming out, but at least peering at the light coming from outside. He easily falls in love with Ginny, and Ginny, in one scene, unexpectedly returns his affection.


            Without revealing too much, I’ll say that there are unexpected betrayals, angry outbursts, and Hal finds himself trying to track down Ginny’s ex-boyfriend and debate partner Ben (Nicholas D’Agosto) for debate advice and social reconstruction. Margo Martindale appears as the school’s debate coach.


            The film is not conventionally triumphant, but we can see Hal taking baby steps toward his own personal victory. For Hal, and for many of us, that’s a lot.


            “Rocket Science” does have a few missteps along the way. With a gravelly-voiced narrator, a plinky soundtrack loaded with moody covers, and a few forced character foibles, “Rocket Science” feels a lot like a tired Wes Anderson quirkfest or “Napoleon Dynamite” homage. And not in a good way. The adults are all painfully inattentive, and usually begin to rant about their own personal problems before even talking to Hal. Hal’s older brother overacts his part too much, and has some lines that are way out of place. These moments are meant to be funny, but they’re distracting. Note to filmmakers: humor from quirky awkwardness is a hard thing to pull off, and can be really, really annoying if done gratuitously or incorrectly (See the preview for “Eagle vs. Shark” is you don’t believe me).

             Luckily, “Rocket Science” lives past these missteps. It has some gorgeous moments, and Hal’s experience is largely heartfelt. “Why are you doing this?” Hal is asked at one point. “Love,” He says, “Well, love or revenge for when love goes wrong. I’m not sure which.” Well, we may not always know our own motivations, but we know we have to do something.

Published in: on August 23, 2007 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

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