ROCKET SCIENCE: No one gets off easy.
Documentary filmmakers have a keen eye and a passionate heart, but not many can translate those qualities to scripted movies. No one remembers Michael Moore for Canadian Bacon or Steve James (Hoop Dreams) for Prefontaine. And till now, Jeffrey Blitz’s claim to fame has been his 2002 Oscar nominee Spellbound, a rousing, enlightening documentary on the competitive world of spelling bees.
Rocket Science will change that. For his first foray into fiction, Blitz might not have come up with as clever a title as he did for his documentary, but the complexities of angst in his teen characters seem just as authentic as those of the real kids in Spellbound. The performances by his two young leads help a lot. So does the material he brings in from the documentary — his experiences while making Spellbound inspired many aspects of Rocket Science, including several characters and the use of a high-school debating club as a backdrop.
The ironically named Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), however, probably has more to contend with than his real-life counterparts in Spellbound. He’s an oft-chastised nerd from a broken home saddled with a bullying brother (Vincent Piazza) and a pronounced stutter. (Napoleon Dynamite had it easy!) So why does Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick, brimming with Tom Cruise confidence), the school’s whiz-bang princess of words, sidle up to Hal and ask him to be her partner on the debate team? Her move stirs sexual tensions and fragile hopes.
Blitz knows his adolescent cruelty and his adult misbehavior, and he details them with barbed wit and compassion. The laughs barely veil the underlying pain, dread, and tenderness, and no one gets off easy at the end.