The Big City Is, Uh, Is, Is Trenton?: Rocket Science (2007)

Everything from the loquacious and witty dialogue to the orchestral cover of Blister in the Sun implies that Rocket Science will result in a brilliant film.  While this film is certainly enjoyable, it leaves viewers wondering if they were given an entire film or simply a series of thoughts weaved into one young adult’s absurdly tragic coming of age.  Jeffrey Blitz, better known for his documentary Spellbound, offers a movie that is almost brilliant, yet lacks the little bit of webbing to assure a life.  Rocket Science has a faint heartbeat, but obviously needs life support to remain conscious.  A general feeling of above-averageness comes along with this film, whether it be the varied levels of acting, some superb and others over-the-top.  With that being said, it does have moments of cinematic magic, whether it be the eagle eye shot of the main character riding his bike, or a sentimental conversation between a father and a son on the philosophical yearnings of love, Rocket Science is a good movie, that just happens to suffer from a lack of polish.

The film delves into the hap-hazardous and rather improbable life of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) who suffers from a socially crippling stutter, making even the simplest task of ordering pizza impossible.  Hal’s lack of voice is only made the more severe by his belligerent and berating older brother Earl (Vincent Piazza).  The film portrays the brothers as being confused by their parent’s recent separation, which is quickly worsened by their mother beginning a relationship with their neighborhood friend, and closeted homosexual Heston (Aaron Yoo).  It appears as though Hal is destined to fail at overcoming his disability, until a young girl and classmate named Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) offers him a chance to join the school debate team.  Hal is instantly infatuated with Ginny for both her looks and her acceptance of him as a person.  Ginny even shares a moment of flustered intimacy with Hal in the janitors’ closet, causing Hal to become completely intoxicated with desire for Ginny.  Hal then joins the debate team as Ginny’s partner only to discover that his inability to speak is still a hurdle to his success.  His stuttering issue is only worsened by the realization that Ginny is transferring schools and only invited Hal to join the team as a means of sabotage.  Bewildered Hal goes into a severe state of depression, which involves drunkenly vandalizing Ginny’s residence and becoming indifferent to the world around him.  Fortunately, through a clever act of revenge and the support of a previous debate champion Hal finds his voice, realizing that even with his stutter he never lacked a voice, but instead simply failed to realize his voices existence all along.

While the film certainly pokes fun at the futility of words when used in a performative manner, it does draw upon a very strong notion when it comes to acknowledging a voice.  It is reminiscent of a third wave feminist notion that demands a representation for the most disenfranchised of peoples.  Although Hal is a white male, usually the most privileged of persons, his stutter makes him a social pariah and thus he is overlooked in favor of more “normal” persons, Ginny being the example in this film.  In the early portions of the film, Hal places his lack of voice in other people, living vicariously through both his brother and Ginny, assuming that they have his best interests at heart, a belief that proves untrue very quickly.  Even when Hal believes he has found a voice in the hip and rebellious Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto), he realizes that the newfound role model is more concerned with personal revenge than giving the overlooked Ben acknowledgement, because as he asks Hal to tell him why they did what they did one day in the future.  After this last failed attempt at passively voicing himself Hal accepts his own and walks about the streets of Trenton by himself, eventually finding the gumption to order pizza from a local restaurant, an act that he is well-awarded for doing.  Provided with self-confidence Hal is able to finally confront his father about life and is given a voice to explain that life, even for a seemingly well-to-do person, is as confusing as “rocket science.”  This movie is an earnest call to accept the harsh realities of life, some that may very greatly contingent on class, race, gender or even unseen disabilities.

I am still on the fence about this film.  I reflect on it since viewing it and feel it to be brilliant, while at other times I find it to be uninspired.  The best I can suggest is to rent a copy and create your own opinion.  Feel free to provide your own impressions on the film; I would love to hear your thoughts.

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