Rocket Science

Five years after directing his hit documentary about spelling bees, Spellbound (2002), Jeffrey Blitz returns with a high school comedy that builds on that film's winning combination of academic stress and offbeat individuals. A put-upon student with a stuttering problem (Reece Thompson) is dragooned by a ferociously competitive schoolmate (Anna Kendrick) to be her partner on the debate squad, and their assigned topic—teaching abstinence in public schools—proves ironic given his deep desire to get his hands on her. The hero's sexual feelings are complicated by his situation at home: his dad has recently moved out and been replaced by his mother's obnoxious new lover (Steve Park) and his teenage son. Quietly written and convincingly played, this coming-of-age story mines its rueful laughs from a thick vein of performance anxiety, in both senses of the term. R, 98 min.

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