This fiction-film debut from Spellbound helmer Jeffrey Blitz is sure to be damned by a rush(more) of comparisons to similar teen-angst spazzathons, but accusing him of chewing other ironocentric nerd auteurs’ food misses the point. Tonal and narrative similarities aside, the daringly verbophiliac Rocket Science is a distillation of the form: By taking pointed jabs at grown-up life’s boring binary choices and making a case for adapting to compromise on your own terms, the film’s more incongruously adult than its genre-mates. If this sounds too dry for big yuks, relax—as one of the movie’s young philosopher-geeks puts it, “There’s no Hegel, if that’s your concern.”
Rocket Science plumbs the social agony of Hal Hefner (the heroically nondescript Thompson), a stammering square peg from Jersey who tortuously finds his voice after a high-school debate-team femme fatale (Kendrick) cruelly uses him for her own purposes, and after enduring the infantile sadism of his older brother (Piazza) and the sloppy squid-vs.-whale breakup of their parents. Blitz gets too much mileage out of a pair of kooky (or kookily) Korean neighbors, but even that’s mitigated by his unapologetic affection for the movie’s cast of misfits, all of whom are somehow beautiful in their irredeemable fucked-upness.
Cast and crew