We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
The high school hero of "Rocket Science" stutters, but all high school kids stutter. It's just that most of them don't do it with their voices. They stutter in the way they don't know how to present themselves, what to say next, how to talk their way out of embarrassment, when to make an approach to someone they have a crush on or how to perform in class when everybody's looking at them. It's just that Hal Hefner (Reece Daniel Thompson) does it out loud.
That's why he seems to be an odd choice when Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) talks him into joining the school debate team. The movie opens when she loses her regular debate partner, Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D'Agosto). His meltdown is spectacular. In the middle of a debate, he is effortlessly speeding along at a zillion words a second (I learn debaters call this "spreading") when suddenly he freezes. His mind goes blank and he can't think of a single thing to say. Who can't identify with that?
Ben drops off the team and starts beating himself up psychologically, and that's when Ginny recruits Hal. She has reasons of her own, which are revealed in the fullness of time, but oddly enough, they're not the reasons we're expecting. "Rocket Science" is not a formula high school movie, is not about formula kids and is funny in a way that you laugh but it still kinda hurts.
The movie's director, Jeffrey Blitz, must have learned a lot about overachieving kids and their occasional breakdowns while directing his first film, the suspenseful, Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound" (2002) about the National Spelling Bee. He learned other things, too, like how when adolescent boys of a certain age think about anything but sex, it's a distraction.