By all reasoning I should be sick of quirky, coming-of-age indie-comedies. There's been a glut of them the last decade, every year a couple more are released, usually at Sundance; Juno being the most popular of the bunch, most are released on DVD and quickly forgotten. But I seek out all of them, I have some sort of an unknown affinity towards them; even though they're all starting to blur together; one large mess of awkward teenagers, smart-ass dialogue, symmetrical photography, over-done set design, obscure rock song soundtracks and dry, all-knowing narrators.
Rocket Science really takes the cake in the quirk department; there's very little here that rings true. I mean, who really plays The Violent Femmes' Blister in the Sun on cello? But movies don't have to be real, that's the whole point, to produce an alternate universe of your own design. Writer/Director Jeffrey Blitz, who made the excellent documentary Spellbound, has created a fairly well-made and funny ride through the embarrassing teenage years.
Hal Hefner,an uneasy high school freshmen, stutters his way through life, his parents have just split-up, and his big brother is a bully and a kleptomaniac; nothing seems to be going his way until Ginny Ryerson the bright, cute captain of the school's debate team decides that he'd be perfect as her new partner. She thinks that those with disabilities make the best debaters, because they have a deep seeded sense of anger. He's willing to give it his best shot as long as he gets to be near Ginny; he has a major crush on her, since she's the only girl that's ever given him a second glance. When they make-out in the closet at school one day, he's done for, completely obsessed.
When he fails her by badly, by stuttering his way through their first debate together, she quickly gives up on him. Even going so far as to switch to a private school, to team up with the best debater in the city. Hal is crushed. After purging his anger in a destructive and humorous manner, he decides to get revenge. He does so by tracking down Ginny's old partner Ben, who had a public meltdown in the opening scene of the film. They make a goofy team, learn some valuable life lessons, and Hal figures a bit about who he really is.
There's nothing new about Rocket Science, every character has some weird tendency, from the Mom who's become some sort of nymphomaniac to Hal's Asian friend who follows him around like a lost puppy, none of the side characters seem more than a set of movie quirks. The entire film is like that, every cliche' of the genre is thrown in. The narrator even sounds like Alec Baldwin, a Wes Anderson alum; the entire film feels like Anderson light, but director Blitz makes it work. It's all so goofy and over-the-top unrealistic that it meshes together nicely, creating a sort of comic book world. While not as good as Rushmore or Juno; if you enjoy films of this sort it's worth checking out. - - Grade: B