Following his wonderful documentary ‘Spellbound’, writer-director Jeffrey Blitz moves with less assurance into the fictional arena with this awkwardly framed tale of teen geekdom, partly inspired by the filmmaker’s own youthful misadventures. Gangly high-school student Hal (Reece Daniel Thompson) is willing to try anything to break free from his nervous stutter, even taking up the suggestion of alluring over-achiever Ginny (Anna Kendrick) that joining her on the rapid-fire debating team will be just the thing to unlock his confidence and untie his tongue.
To Blitz’s credit, the movie doesn’t follow the obvious path to the final-reel showdown, suggesting ambivalence and resilience as life lessons in themselves. With its affectionate tone and poised dialogue, there’s obvious heart and intelligence at work here, but the film is far too caught up in its own smarts, piling on a clever-clever voiceover and ultra-whimsical score to bury its human core under layers of indie-movie quirkiness. There’s a lovely, fragile movie here; if only Blitz had had the faith to let it stand on its own two feet.