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DVD REVIEW

If you liked 'Juno,' try this

February 01, 2008|Jen Chaney | Washington Post

2007 was a big year for quirky teen-movie heroes. Characters like the squeaky-voiced McLovin of "Superbad" and the winningly sarcastic Juno McGuff of the Oscar-nominated "Juno" joined the ranks of Napoleon Dynamite and "Rushmore's" Max Fischer in the Offbeat High Schooler Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, the buzz surrounding those high-profile personalities caused another equally unconventional adolescent to slip through the cracks. Allow me to introduce you to Hal Hefner, the stammering protagonist in "Rocket Science" ($28), a winning, overlooked indie film that landed on DVD this week. Released quietly last summer in a limited number of theaters, "Rocket Science" will hopefully find an audience with the same viewers that helped "Juno" bring in more than $100 million at the box office.

To be clear, "Rocket Science" is not quite as assured or cleverly scripted as that Ellen Page dramedy. But writer-director Jeffrey Blitz -- who beautifully captured the competitive spirit among young spellers in the 2002 documentary "Spellbound" -- brings wit and pathos to the story of a compulsive stutterer (Reece Thompson) who joins the debate team at the urging of the pretty, overachieving Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick, playing the role with flickers of Reese Witherspoon's fire in the brilliant "Election").

The cast features a few recognizable faces from other recent teen fare, including Jonah Hill from "Superbad" and Aaron Yoo of "Disturbia," as well as a soundtrack peppered with multiple tracks by the Violent Femmes. Hearing "Add It Up" in a teen movie? OK, maybe not so original. But in "Rocket Science," we get a cover version performed by a cellist mom and pianist dad, dueting peacefully in their living room. It's weird, but believable, a tone that pervades the entire movie.

Perhaps because of its low-budget nature, the only extra included on this DVD is a standard making-of featurette. The one interesting nugget the mini-doc delivers is that Thompson studied with a speech pathologist to learn how to stutter.

It's a shame that Blitz did not record a commentary track to match the entertaining one he delivered on the "Spellbound" DVD. Maybe if "Rocket Science" sells enough copies to merit a special-edition, we can finally gain more insight into the mind of the tongue-tripping Hal Hefner and his creator.

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