PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Rocket Science

Gavin Williamson
Reece Thompson & Lisbeth Bartlett in Rocket Science (2007)

Though Blitz hasn't the crossover clout of some of his contemporaries, he does process a marked talent for dialogue and quirky scenarios.

Rocket Science

Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Cast: Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Nicholas D'Agosto, Aaron Yoo
Distributor: HBO
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Picturehouse
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-01-29

Heavily influenced by the anxiously esoteric dialogue and ultra stylized suburban sets of writer cum director cum producers like Wes Anderson (Rushmore,) Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale), and Mike Mills (Thumbsucker), the métier of Jeffery Blitz’s Rocket Science at times feels more traveled than it does fresh. This, however, is a fleeting phenomenon as we follow the personal unraveling of the stuttering and socially awkward Hal Halford (Reece Thompson) as he navigates the treacherous roads slowly leading away from adolescence and into the wild blue yonder.

Fed-up with his therapist’s alternative speech impediment treatments, and intrigued by a left-field invitation from the campus debate star Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) Hal quickly finds himself in a situation he is ill equipped to handle. Now motivated by a severe case of non-reciprocal puppy love, Hal must figure out a way to prove himself at the state debate championship, with or without Ginny.

Though Blitz does not have the same type of crossover clout as some of his contemporaries, the kind that allowed Anderson, for example, to drown The Darjeeling Limited milieu with hyper-stylized Louis Vuitton branding, he does process a marked talent for dialogue and quirky scenarios – and besides, Hal’s busted up roller backpack makes for a better inanimate character than a squeaky clean, couture, gazelle skin attaché does.

While the bulky ephemera in Anderson’s latest prevents profound character identification (though some might argue that this is the point, an illustration of fetishized popular consumerism over the development of interpersonal relationships), Blitz gives Rocket Science a personal patina by incorporating his own teenage experiences (though perhaps markedly less traumatic ones) with a speech impediment, even consulting a speech pathologist in conjunction with the film’s production.

Interestingly, the narrative centrality of public speaking in Rocket Science recalls Blitz’ 2002 film Spellbound (not to be confused with the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock/Salvador Dali film of the same name), a documentary about the national spelling bee. Though both Spellbound and Rocket Science are predicated on this idea of tournaments – events with a distinct winner and loser – neither feature places a value judgment on either of the options, but rather inverts the significance of winner into more introspective questions about self esteem and personal discovery.

Of course in keeping with the indie film spirit (lackluster spirit/ smells like teen spirit?), especially after Anderson’s pointed use of Elliot Smith’s Needle in the Hay in The Royal Tennenbaums, Rocket Science also sports a snazzy soundtrack with, among others, The Violent Femmes. Accordingly, and additionally to the short featurette The Making of Rocket Science, the DVD bonus features also comes with the music video for Eef Barzeylay and Clem Snide’s theme-song single I Love the Unknown.

You have probably already guessed that Hal’s parents are both neurotic divorcees (and yes, it takes place on the East Coast) – and while blind-folded make-out sessions and library masturbation scenes are prime indie film fodder, divorced parents are the biggest narrative similarity between Thumbsucker and The Squid and the Whale. I know that genre derivates are supposed to be stale and stagnant and I don’t know that Rocket Science dexterously redevelops genre boundaries (though it did win the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance), but, to quote The Simpsons’ Mr. Burns, “I know what I hate, and I don’t hate this.”


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.