'Rocket Science' Prescription: The Talking Cure You know too well where Hollywood would take a story about a stutterer who joins the debate team to get a girl. But writer-director Jeffrey Blitz is a Hollywood outsider, and he's going someplace else — into quirky, indie-flick social satire.



'Rocket Science' Prescription: The Talking Cure

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Director Jeffrey Blitz won an Oscar nomination for his first movie, "Spellbound," a documentary about the dogged determination of kids competing in national spelling bee.

Critic Bob Mondello says Blitz is still dealing with adolescents and school contests in his first fiction film, a comedy called "Rocket Science."

BOB MONDELLO: Here's how 14-year-old Hal Hefner sounds when he's talking to a friend.

(Soundbite of movie "Rocket Science")

Mr. REECE THOMPSON (Actor): (As Hal Hefner) I should - I should - um - I should really - I should - should - um - I should really probably go home now, Louis(ph).

MONDELLO: That's stutter and the bullying of his macho older brother, Earl -who keeps telling him to set an agenda for success - have Hal feeling pretty isolated and insecure. So he's surprised when Ginny, a pretty girl from the school's debate team, sits next to him on his bus ride home and tells him that she is...

(Soundbite from movie "Rocket Science")

Ms. ANNA KENDRICK (Actress): (As Ginny Ryerson) Recruiting - ferreting out the debating talents from the masses. That's you. I ferreted you.

Mr. THOMPSON: (As Hal Hefner) Hmm. Public speaking? Like speaking in public? You know, I don't think that's - that's not - that's not very...

Ms. KENDRICK: (As Ginny Ryerson) Suit your self. But deformed people are the best. Maybe it's because they have a deep resource of anger. It serves them well.

MONDELLO: This is an unconventional come-on, but since no one's ever come on to Hal, it works. He starts helping Ginny with research and joins the debate club as her partner, and soon confides to his brother that he's in way over his head even before he gets to the public-speaking part.

(Soundbite of movie "Rocket Science")

Mr. THOMPSON: (As Hal Hefner) Do you know how - um - how - how you or one to take a relationship to the next level?

Mr. VINCENT PIAZZA (Actor): (As Earl Hefner) I'm glad you came to me because this is exactly the sort of problem that mommy and daddy would really screw up. It's all about having an agenda.

MONDELLO: Earl's agenda includes some suggestions that are no more suitable for radio than they are for Hal at the advanced age of 14. Now, you know going in where a Hollywood picture would take a story in which a stutterer joins the debate team to get the girl.

But writer-director Jeffrey Blitz is an outsider to Hollywood, and he's going someplace else with it - into quirky, indie-flick, social satire, which is not perhaps an altogether unfamiliar place these days. There have been enough offbeat coming-of-age comedies in just the last couple of years - "The Squid and the Whale," and "Napoleon Dynamite," "Little Miss Sunshine" - that it's now possible to say that "Rocket Science" is unconventional in mostly conventional ways.

Still, between Blitz, who proves a clever writer and director, and his young leading man - Reece Thompson, who puts a lot of character behind that stutter -the smarts and charm of "Rocket Science" are simply not open to debates.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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