Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
|Featuring:||Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto, Vincent Piazza, Margo Martindale, Aaron Yoo, Josh Kay, Steve Park, Maury Ginsberg, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Denis O'Hare, Lisbeth Bartlett, Candace Burr Scholz, Virginia Frank, Marilyn Yoblick, Emily Ginnona, Dan DeLuca, Michael Kusnir, John Patrick Barry, Jane Beard, Herb Merrick, Jonah Hill, Betsy Hogg, Brandon Thane Wilson, Zack Arrington, Katrina Hargrave, Erin Loube, Natasha Sattler, Will Shaw, Jeffrey Wei, David DeBoy, Andrew Collie, Huong Huyah, Katherine Ross Wolfe, Susan Duvall, Elisabeth Noone, Noah Mazaika, Will Parquette, Tara Richter-Smith, Judy Jean Berns, Jeanette Brox, Roland Branford Gomez, Lee R. Sellars, Joel Marsh Garland, Dan Cashman|
|Producer:||Effie Brown, Nicole Colombie, George Norfleet, Sean Welch|
Though it is used as the backdrop for an adolescent love story, the film “Rocket Science” does provide a glimpse into the world of competitive debating and uses the structure of a debate to navigate a rather unique coming-of-age story.
The film starts with an analytical assault waged by soon to be high school legend and debate expert Ben Wekselbaum (Nicolas D’Agosto) who in the midst of a rapid assault of verbal arguments suddenly stops and becomes lost in thought, or perhaps lost in his own overabundance of analytical thought. Because Ben is her partner, Ginny (Anna Kendrick) once again is denied the coveted first place debate trophy, and she is forced to find another partner.
She decides to use contrarian logic, and instead of selecting somebody like Ben with obvious verbal acuity, she instead sets her sights on Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson). Hal is chosen by Ginny despite having a speech impediment, or perhaps due to this. She contends that Hal would make the perfect debate candidate because “deformed people are perhaps best because of their deep resources of anger.”
In addition to struggling with developing the verbal ability to effectively engage in debate, Hal also deals with the feelings and emotions that come with his ineffectiveness in communicating the feelings he has for his new partner, Ginny.
Like many coming-of-age stories, Hal lives in a single parent home; in this case, he lives with his mom and kleptomaniac brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) who protects what he steals in a metal case in his closet, as well as with the creed, “if I steal it, it’s mine.” The two brothers are thrown into an awkward situation when Hal’s mother starts to date the father of one of Hal’s classmates, a man that eventually comes to live with them. Hal and Earl fight and tease like most siblings, and, at times, Earl is both verbally and emotionally abusive to his stuttering little brother. He eventually lends his support when Hal decides to compete for the state-wide debate championship.
The performances are good, particularly by Thompson and Kendrick, and the characters are well drawn and display a wide range of emotions and feelings. Writer/Director Jeffrey Blitz (who directed the documentary “Spellbound”) has constructed identifiable characters that are likeable because of their strengths as well as their flaws.
The film is rated R for language (including numerous usages of the f-word and characters remarking with their middle finger when words alone can’t suffice) and thematic elements dealing with sex and adult relationships. The film also includes the typical scene of teenage boys engaging in frank sexual discussions while looking at animated “sexual positions” from a cartoon “Kama Sutra,” the pictures of which are shared with the audience.
The topic the teams debate is “teaching abstinence in public schools.” Though this is generally used as a tool to heighten the sexual awkwardness that Hal already feels for Ginny, it is also used to provide sexual jokes about sexual frustration and masturbation. The topic also allows the characters to express their opinions (or as Ginny contends, their arguments for or against the resolution—since debaters are “not allowed to have opinions in order to argue both sides of the resolution”) about the topic and expel a rapid barrage of contentions to discredit the resolution of “abstinence being taught in public schools;” this argument (as well as little support to a counter argument) proposed by the characters might be offensive to some Christians.
In comparison to the recently released “Superbad” or “American Pie” and countless teen comedies of that ilk, the film is relatively mild. Adults and mature teens should be able to handle the film and might enjoy the perspective the film engages about dealing with the awkwardness that besets all teens during the “magical” years of high school. If nothing else, it provides an affectionate, yet brief, glimpse into the world of high school debating.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.