Rocket Science is a sweet, dark film about stuttering high school student Hal Hefner—but be warned: You're going to hear inevitable and angry comparisons to Election, The Squid and the Whale, and every Wes Anderson film ever made. But don't let that bother you. Director Jeffrey Blitz (who previously made the spelling bee documentary Spellbound) knows how to make a good film, and while it resonates with quirky Andersonisms, it's still immensely fresh, likeable, and genuine.
As Hal's (Reece Thompson) parents are separating, and their arguing grows louder and louder, Hal seems to lose the ability to talk, a crippling stutter stifling everything he has to say. While his kleptomaniac, obsessive-compulsive brother deals with the separation in his own way (stealing, making long-term goals), Hal recedes further into his own head, until the fast-talking Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) recruits him for the debate club. Believing Hal to be an idiot savant, Ginny's interest spurs Hal to fall head over heels for the articulate firecracker. And with a soundtrack filled with the everyman angst of the Violent Femmes, one can't help but feel empathetic to Hal's plight.
Without a doubt, Thompson and Kendrick's performances steal the show—incalculably glossing over any rough spots that Rocket Science has, of which there are a few. While the film is funny, touching, and engrossing, sometimes it tries to be too much, taking a scattershot approach to all things teen angsty. But there are a lot of reasons to pardon Rocket Science's flaws—all is forgiven when Hal and Ginny square off, or when Hal's heartache comes to a crashing crescendo with "Kiss Off" blaring, or when Ginny speed-talks her way through an apology, or when Hal debates abstinence while singing a modified "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."