Having charmed cinema-goers with his enthralling Oscar-nominated documentary Spellbound, director Jeffrey Blitz works a different kind of magic with this beguiling fiction film debut. Where his first film followed a bunch of National Spelling Bee competition hopefuls, Blitz’s follow-up focuses on a single teenager, the superbly monikered Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), who joins his school’s debate team initially in order to romance ultra-competitive team-leader Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), but ultimately to overcome his ego-crushing speech impediment.
Blitz’s offbeat eccentric comedy is clearly indebted to Wes Anderson, to whose films Rocket Science bears more than a passing resemblance. From the diorama-style set-pieces through the breezy pop-classical soundtrack (featuring a heard-to-be-believed cello and piano rendition of the Violent Femmes’ hit ‘Blister in the Sun’) to the preternaturally mature kids and adults suffering from arrested development, Rocket Science recalls Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.
That’s no bad thing, although Rocket Science might have felt like no more than a homage to an idiosyncratic fellow filmmaker if it weren’t for Blitz’s enormously sympathetic yet never sentimental take on his protagonist’s debilitating communication difficulties. And newcomer Thompson is jaw-droppingly good as the determined, though not precocious in an Anderson-esque manner, Hefner.
General release from Fri 28 Sep.