Every year I look forward to many films, especially those who receive praise at film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Last year “Little Miss Sunshine” was the huge hit at Sundance and that turned out to be my favorite film of 2006. The year before that “Thumbsucker” won both awards and praise and that also turned out to be fantastic. This year, titles like “Teeth”, and “The Savages”, “Joshua”, and “Rocket Science” were the films that were the ones to watch this year. I’ve seen the latter two and I must say that I was only impressed with one of them. “Rocket Science” was probably one of the most anticipated films of this year for me and I could not wait for it to come to theaters.
I was severely disappointed. In the first fifteen minutes of the film I got this huge feeling of fear that this film was going to be a major letdown. The film is the story of young Hal Hefner (played by Reece Thompson), a stuttering loner who is lured into the intense world of high school debate by Ginny (played by Anna Kendrick) whose former partner quit after losing at the state championship. Hal is held back in his confidence by his inane brother played very creepily yet too over the top by Vincent Piazza. As Ginny and Hal train for the debate topic on abstinence he develops a huge crush on her while still not finding any way to solve his stuttering.
This plot has major potential but unfortunately falls completely flat throughout the entire film.
Not only was the film boring, it felt totally overdone. It basically had the “Thumbsucker” plot, threw in a little Wes Anderson/Hal Ashby filmmaking style and music, and felt like a hundred different rip-offs all at once (it even features a narration that sounds like a cheap version of Alec Baldwin’s terrific job in “The Royal Tenenbaums”). Sometimes a film that takes other styles and makes it their own can be refreshing (Zach Braff’s Mike Nichols-esque Garden State), but this was just a hodgepodge that didn’t work. The acting was also mostly off par. I had heard that Reece Thompson was terrific in this but I really didn’t see anything worth writing about. He stutters through the whole film, and only has a couple of lines that are somewhat memorable. There is one scene in the entire film in which I found him likeable: He finally finds a way to stop his stuttering and he is unnecessarily shot down. That’s another thing that I loathed about this movie. It lacked hope. This is a sad movie that is being advertised as a comedy. “Little Miss Sunshine” had the same thing happen but that film had a lot of hope to it, and it turned out to be a terrific mixture of comedy and sadness. The trailer was very well cut, and made the film seem like a lot of fun. When those funny scenes occurred in the movie, they kept going and didn’t have the timing that the commercial had. That’s really embarrassing.
There were a few things that I really liked about the film but it’s disenchantment was just too overwhelming. Ginny’s neighbor Lewis, one of the film’s quirky characters, is the major standout. He is played by Josh Kay, and he has a similar delivery of his lines like Michael Cera of “Superbad.” His lines are really the funniest of the film (“Does she wear a bra? Do you wanna see a bra?” and the few people in the theater laughed only when he was on screen. Speaking of “Superbad”, Jonah Hill also has a cameo as the president of the philosophy club and his few scenes were terrific. Unfortunately these scenes just didn’t occur enough in this film, so they only felt like benign tumors on a mountain of cancer. My third favorite part about this film was the character Ben, who was Ginny’s original debate partner and was played terrifically by Nicholas D’Agosto. He is a very handsome young actor who had the only character in the film who brought some kind of hope to Hal’s depressing story.
Unfortunately, there are never any feelings of closure at any point. There are many subplots that are created and most of them are NOT fixed, closed, or explained throughout the film. At the end of the film we are supposed to believe that Hal has found his voice but their is no metaphorical or physical evidence of this. He gets some kind of revenge on Ginny (who we never find out is good or bad), but it all feels very weak. I never really cared about any of the main characters. This film has taught me to not always believe what I hear and find out for myself if a film is great or not. I was so excited about this movie and was just totally underwhelmed and disappointed. I give Rocket Science a C-.