Life’s a speech

ROCKET SCIENCE Di­rected by Jef­frey Blitz. Star­ring Reece Daniel Thompson, Anna Ken­drick, Ni­cholas D’Agosto, Vin­cent Pi­azza, Margo Martin­dale 15A cert, Cineworld, Dublin, 102 min

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews - MICHAEL DWYER

WHEN I in­ter­viewed ac­tor Eric Roberts some years ago, he spoke with a stam­mer that was not ev­i­dent in any of his films. He ex­plained that the char­ac­ters he played did not stam­mer and that he started act­ing as a form of speech ther­apy.

I was re­minded of that con­ver­sa­tion while watch­ing Rocket Science, in which the cen­tral char­ac­ter, Hal Hefner, is a New Jer­sey high-school stu­dent with such a pro­nounced stam­mer that he has a hard time or­der­ing lunch in the school cafe­te­ria.

En­dear­ingly played by Reece Daniel Thompson, Hal has other prob­lems, wit­ness­ing the mar­i­tal break-up of his par­ents and liv­ing with an ag­gres­sive older brother (Vin­cent Pi­azza). As Hal strug­gles to deal with his ado­les­cent sex­u­al­ity, he is sur­prised when Ginny (Anna Ken­drick), a bright, at­trac­tive and supremely con­fi­dent stu­dent, in­vites him to be­come her part­ner on the school de­bat­ing team. Her for­mer part­ner (Ni­cholas d’Agosto) dried up dur­ing the state cham­pi­onship de­bate and now works in dry clean­ing.

Teen angst suf­fuses Rocket Science, the first nar­ra­tive fea­ture from Jef­frey Blitz, the di­rec­tor of the com­pelling Os­car-nom­i­nated doc­u­men­tary Spell­bound, which also dealt with ver­bal gym­nas­tics and highly com­pet­i­tive young­sters as it fol­lowed the fi­nal­ists in the US na­tional spell­ing bee. In Rocket Science’s de­bat­ing scenes, the stu­dents make their points in tightly scripted speeches and with daz­zling rapid-fire de­liv­ery.

Blitz, who stut­tered in his youth, ev­i­dently em­pathises with his pro­tag­o­nist in this cal­cu­lat­edly quirky US indie. It earned him the award for best di­rec­tor at this year’s Sun­dance fes­ti­val. While some of its odd­ball de­tails feel con­trived and ex­ces­sive, Rocket Science is re­fresh­ingly un­con­ven­tional in its treat­ment and re­li­ably in­ven­tive as it adeptly side­steps the po­ten­tial cliches of the com­ing-of-age genre.

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