Good directing is not ‘Rocket Science’
It’s about as difficult to support Rocket Science’s Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) as it is for him to order lunch in the school cafeteria. Hefner must choose between pizza and fish, and his stuttering prevents him from ordering the pizza that he craves, prompting the impatient lunch lady to slap fish on a plate, leaving Hefner unsatisfied every time.
Coming-of-age stories are intriguing – the central theme is the same in all of them, even though the details are different. In most the audience sympathizes with the protagonist, regardless of what he does to accomplish his goals. But with Rocket Science, the viewer feels detached from the awkward Hefner.
In a sense, one has the desire to see the protagonist end up in the same boat as other young geeks in Sundance classics. The audience expects the movie will lead in the same direction as its indie predecessors, such as Napoleon Dynamite and Rushmore. Director Jeffery Blitz, however, takes his project into uncharted waters that steer the film away from the obvious cliches employed by other directors.
While it is refreshing to see a different side of the same story, the film leaves the viewer wanting more. The antics of a stuttering boy can only take the audience so far.
The film begins to lose focus when Hefner’s attitude toward his love interest Ginny (Anna Kendrick) takes a turn for the worse causing the audience to lose sympathy for Hefner. Under Blitz’s direction, the audience quickly forgets about Hefner and grows to love the goofy supporting cast, which is the true treasure of the film.
From Hefner’s kleptomaniac brother, Earl, played brilliantly by Vincent Piazza, to his curious weasel-like neighbor Lewis (Josh Kay), the background misfits dominate every scene they are in. When confronted again with Hefner’s problems and his solutions to each one, the viewer is left utterly confused as to why the director decided to include an extra 40 minutes of useless material. Just as Hefner fails miserably throughout the entire film, so does the director in trying to inject a dose of reality into a repeated story in independent coming-of-age films.
Before the film’s big debate, Ginny cuts ties with Hefner – even though she conned him into joining the team in the first place – Hefner goes crazy stalking her and knocks on her door when he’s supposed to be at school. It is unclear whether he is trying to win her back or seek revenge, but either way, the viewer anxiously waits for something to happen, and nothing does: Hefner never learns to speak at the pace of an auctioneer the way Ginny’s former debate partner, Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto), does at the beginning of the film.
Usually people search for "real" endings to hackneyed tales, but this film desperately needed one because it dives deeply into Hefner’s character. But for a film that wants its audience to love a stuttering, insecure adolescent, it sure does a lot to impede that desire by making Hefner only slightly more pathetic than your average geek. He could’ve just pointed to the pizza.