Friday, August 31, 2007
This is, actually, Rocket Science
When it comes to the reviews I've read for the quirky, mild-mannered comedy Rocket Science, certain directorial influences have been diagnosed repeatedly: Wes Anderson, Todd Solondz, Alexander Payne. Yes, yes. Sure, sure. Flavor swirls from all of those talented storytellers can be detected in Jeffrey Blitz's Rocket Science. But it's all good, as they used to say back in the day.
A little Andersonian preciousness, a little Solondz brooding, a little Payne-esque high school angst on wry—it's all there and part of the reason this story works so well. Prior to this film, Blitz was best known for directing the incredibly entertaining documentary about spelling bees, Spellbound, and there are shades of that experience adding to the satisfaction factor here, too.
The story is of a teen with a stutter who finds himself compelled to join his high school debate team. Our anti-hero, played to utter perfection by Reece Thompson, faces absurd obstacle after absurb obstacle, but always keeps the heart of the story grounded. Anna Kendrick is also noteworthy as the cool-as-ice debating star who encourages her naive charge to take the podium. Nicholas D'Agosto overcomes his teen dream good looks and short screen time to inject even more IQ into the already brainy little film. I wish his character was real, so I could talk and walk with him on the way home from a long day of dry cleaning. Not for the doll face, but for the dialogue.
Outside of the disarming performances, the highest compliment I can pay this bittersweet comedy is that is doesn't take the well-beaten path at any point in its plot. That feat alone is as refreshing as a mint julep when the barometer reads 99.
A funny side note to this review: I saw the film in a brand spanking new art house theater. Think gourmet concessions, chic loos and cushy seating. All the films shown at this spot are of the non-blockbuster variety, but there are large theaters downstairs for the more popular picks and tiny "living room" theaters upstairs for those films drawing smaller crowds.
As I walked out of the living room theater where Rocket Science was playing, I overhead a theater usher explaining the lay of the land to a new employee.
"These little theaters up here are where they put the lame movies."
I had to almost choke back my laughter as I passed.
"Oh, honey," I thought, "You couldn't be more wrong. Actually, the rule of thumb is 'the bigger the theater, the lamer the movie.'"
But there was no point debating her on it.