Nailing the High School Experience
As much as Rocket Science is autobiographical—“somewhat” according to the film’s production notes—I left the film puzzled and bemused. Hal is a stutterer who is recruited to join his high school debate team. Writer-director Jeff Blitz actually did join his high school debate team, even though he was a stutterer. Unlike Hal, Blitz found success in his endeavor. Hal, though, never finds success. His recruiter gives up on him. He flounders without much help or support. He finally makes a friend, but others turn on him unexpectedly.
Blitz admits an aversion to “autobiographical fiction” films, for fear of duplicating his past efforts. He wanted this film to be a departure from his life, and a ninety-degree turn from his feature film debut Spellbound.
I found Rocket Science to be a very frustrating experience—not due to poor quality, mind you, but due to the realistic characterizations of high school kids. Hal is smitten with quick talking Ginny. Ginny somehow recognizes some intellectual quickness in Hal, and recruits him for the debate team. As good as Ginny is, she is still just a fickle and emotionally immature high school girl.
I am currently only weeks away from my thirty-year high school class reunion. I have been reacquainting myself with some of my female classmates and am remembering the fickle and apparently manipulative nature of the 17-year-old female sex. (The years have been kind to my classmates.) This fickleness is unexplainable, unfathomable, seemingly irrational and (to a 15-year-old boy) permanently injurious. So in regard to this reality, Rocket Science is truly a gem of unresolved emotional trauma, irrational and unexplainable events. Blitz captures the disconnect between what one says and what one does as a germinating adult quite well in this film.
Often, films that portray teens and the issues they face tend to focus on sexual drive, beauty, and meanness. By contrast, Rocket Science tends to focus on the accidental—or more accurately, oblivious—ways in which teenagers navigate the wishy-washy waters of adolescence.
My mother used to tell me that High School would be the best times in my life. I am not sure whether she was lying to me, or just trying to soften the blows. Despite the protected environment my high school gave me, emotionally I was adrift. But when it comes to remembering, vividly, my high school days, Rocket Science does a better job of helping than my Mom did. It is more honest, more brutal. It helps me take joy in my life as it is now.
Rocket Science also increases my empathy for today’s youth. I can remember what events brought me to where I am now, and I can see that I was not alone. I am glad that this film left me kind of unresolved and empty, as it is more memorable that way. Hal, does a lot of thinking. Often the scenes where he is silent give you time to examine your own thoughts.
Life doesn’t end at 15. Nor is it any tidier in the adult world. I have resolved only a few things in my adult life, but I am okay with that. I am okay with Rocket Science, too.
Rocket Science is rated R for “some sexual content and language.” Again, it seems inconsistent to give this film an R rating as compared to some raunchy Adam Sandler PG-13 films. Apparently, the harsher rating is intended as some help in denoting the target markets, rather than any comment on morality. The MPAA has a tough job of pleasing everyone.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Mike attended a press screening of Rocket Science.