I fell in love with a high schooler last weekend.
Okay, before you call the kiddie police, it wasn’t an actual high schooler. It was a film character, Hal Hefner. And he was played by actor Reece Thompson who is now 21. Yes, much much too young for me, but safely out of the “disturbingly young” category.
Anyway. Hal Hefner is the protagonist of an utterly charming film from 2007, Rocket Science.
I shouldn’t be surprised that I so thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It was written and directed by Jeffrey Blitz, who brought us the wonderfully funny documentary Spellbound in 2002.
Mini plot summary: Hal has a debilitating stutter. Ginny – high school debater extraordinaire – recruits him for the debate team, on the premise that kids with flaws like Hal’s have something to prove and work harder. Hal falls for Ginny. Heartbreak and hilarity ensue.
I don’t know if Reece Thompson’s portrayal of a stutterer was realistic. My husband didn’t think so. But I was so convinced I looked him up to see if that’s why he was chosen as the lead. (It wasn’t.) And I never for one second felt like the film was exploiting his speech disorder. It was handled with sensitivity and realism, while at the same time using it as a thematic device.
One reason I loved this movie was that it wasn’t (totally) unrealistic. Hal’s character was adorable and charming and (almost entirely) believable. But while I would have loved to see him win the big state debate tournament, I was more pleased when he didn’t. (Sorry to spoil it for you.) But he won something that was, I think, more important.
Ostensibly, the overarching theme of this movie is about finding one’s voice – both literally and figuratively. But what seemed even more prominent, and, in its way, poignant, was the theme of small victories. And how those may sometimes be the most formative and critical of all.
Getting respect from your brother. Having a long conversation with a debate legend. Talking to your father about love. Changing someone’s opinion about you. Being noticed for something other than your speech disorder. Ordering a piece of pizza.
These are the victories that make up a normal life. These are the victories that matter.
Aside from provoking thought, this film was hilarious. Hal’s brother was a caricature of the stereotypical bullying older brother. Hal’s mother’s love interest had bouts of inappropriate laughter. There’s the eleven-year-old who lives across the street from Ginny Ryerson, loves to play Cowboys and Indians, and has a big ‘ol bra stashed behind his bed. There’s the chubby philosopher who tries to get Hal to join his club by assuring him that they won’t cover Hegel. (My husband didn’t find this funny, but I laughed out loud.) Hal himself announces to his love interest’s mother that he’s “done with masturbation” and ready to prove it.
And of course, there’s former debate legend Ben Wekselbaum (played by the delicious Nicholas D’Agosto) who went silent mid debate about farm subsidies, quit high school, and went to work for a drycleaner in Trenton.
Should you see it? Absolutely. It’s a film that is funny, heartbreaking, and surprisingly tender. I strongly recommend it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this film, if you’ve seen it. Have at it in the comments – but beware that there may be spoilers.