Heartfelt ‘Rocket’ engaging

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Resolved: “Rocket Science” is a literate, touchingly funny film that marks an auspicious feature debut for documentarian Jeffrey Blitz.

There’s no debate — in high-school debating, Mr. Blitz has found a milieu that’s every bit as intense and interesting as that of the spelling bee contenders he followed in “Spellbound.”

The film opens with one boy losing his voice and another trying to find his. Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick) and Ben Wekselbaum (Nicholas D’Agosto) are poised to win the regional debating championships when, in the midst of a mile-a-minute spiel, Ben suddenly can’t say another word. He walks off the stage, and his competitive partner is crushed.

Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), on the other hand, barely talks at all. He’s a stutterer who’s never experienced the simple delight of pizza because he can’t seem to get the word out when he’s standing in line at the cafeteria. (“Fish” is much easier to say.)

So imagine his surprise when Ginny tries to recruit him. “So here I am ferreting out the debating talent from the masses. That’s you. I’m ferreting you,” she tells him in her sensuous but serious-minded way. Damaged people like Hal make the best debaters, she claims, because they have deep-seated anger to call on.

There’s no question Hal has issues. Besides his speech problem, his parents have just split, and his mom is having a very open affair with Hal’s best friend’s dad. So when the beautiful Ginny walks into his life, her promises of love and fame seem like the answer to his prayers.

Life is never that easy in a coming-of-age story, of course, and “Rocket Science” thankfully resists the easy cliches. The movie’s knowing narrator may come and go without explanation, but the film always lovingly explores both its characters and their passions while gently pointing out their foibles.

**1/2

TITLE: “Rocket Science”

RATING: R (some sexual content and language)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz

RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

WEB SITE: www.rocketsciencemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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