What is so difficult about rocket science? Itís merely the combination of complex scientific systems such as aerodynamics, propulsion, control engineering, materials science and electronics. Alright, so the subjects might be a tad over most of our heads, but those problems pale in comparison to the multitude of life questions and quandaries we all deal with on a daily basis, and thatís exactly the point the aptly named Rocket Science makes.
Born from the brain behind the 2002 documentary Spellbound, which followed middle schoolers working toward spelling bee greatness, Rocket Science is film that is obviously close to writer and director Jeffrey Blitzís heart. Blitzí fondness for his home-grown story is good and bad as we follow Hal Hefner, a high school student whose disabling stutter isnít enough to stop him from joining the debate team in hopes of winning the heart of the fast-talking girl who recruited him. Although the genre has changed to indie comedy, the setting and a few themes arenít that far off from Blitzís previous documentary work. Spellbound subtly wove themes of isolation and a loss of childhood through its story, and Rocket Science expands on those ideas through Hefnerís first lost love.
But Rocket Science is far from subtle. From Halís ironic last name (heís not the greatest ladies man) to his stutter-plagued debate arguing the importance of abstinence taught in public schools, the themes of losing oneís childhood innocence through the first romantic relationship are painfully obvious. Perhaps no more so than the scene where Hal looks at his loveís bedroom window, pounding down a bottle of brandy like thereís no tomorrow, while his two friends play cowboy and Indians behind him. Despite all the transparent symbolism, there is a lining of honesty and humor. Weíve all been in Halís position at one time or another. The difference is that while his childhood is literally behind him, he gets up and throws a cello through the window of his belovedís home. How many heart-broken lovers have ever wanted to do that? You can all put your hands down.
The straight-played ridiculousness of the film rings true because of how we relate to it. Weíve all wanted to throw that cello, and we cheer for Hal when he does. Much of the honesty and humor credit is due to Reece Thompsonís performance and Blitzís direction. Halís sympathetic trump card is his stutter, which could have been a cinematic disaster. Blitz, however, handles it with the delicacy of first-hand knowledge, knowing when to make it painful, when to make it funny and when to make it meaningful Ė like when Hal bumbles through the line, ďI want to do this for loveÖ or revenge. Love or revenge.Ē
Unfortunately, that same finesse doesnít spill into the rest of Blitzís aesthetics. While the film isnít a pretentious indie comedy, or ďdramity,Ē it does have a fixation on quirky music, like an a capella version of The Blobís pulpy theme song and a piano and cello duet of the Violet Femmeís ďRaisin in the Sun,Ē causing Rocket Science to come off stylistically like a poor manís Wes Anderson film. Even the voice over seems like practice takes from The Royal Tenenbaums. While Anderson wears his French and Italian influences on his sleeve while injecting his own stile, Blitzís filmmaking feels like a documentary filmmaker lost on a dramatic palette. Yet, Blitzís inability to define his directorial voice is what keeps Rocket Science from standing out of the indie crowed, but its honesty and humor hold promises of great films from Blitz.
Reviewed By: Jason Morgan
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