High School, Debate Team … It's All Rocket Science
- Friday, February 01, 2008
Release Date: January 29, 2008
Rating: R (for some sexual content and language)
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: Jeffrey Blitz
Actors: Reese Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Nicholas D’Agosto, Aaron Yoo
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following review contains frank discussion of adult subject matter that is not appropriate for young readers. Parents, please exercise caution.
High-schooler Hal Hefner (newcomer Reese Thompson) has a tough life. He lives in Plainsboro, NJ, his parents have just split and his neurotic older brother (Vincent Piazza) won’t stop stealing his friends’ stuff. Hal’s mother, who is disturbingly open about her sexuality, has also just taken up with the father of Hal’s best friend. And, to make matters really worse, Hal stutters. A lot.
It’s therefore a huge surprise when Ginny (Anna Kendrick), the super articulate star debater at Hal’s school, asks him to be her new partner. Ginny’s in a funk, having placed second in the state debate championships. It turns out that her previous partner, Ben (Nicholas D’Agosto), froze at a crucial moment, which led him to drop out of school. Now, for some bizarre reason, Ginny thinks Hal can replace Ben.
Not surprisingly, she has other motives, but the hapless Hal can’t see anything through his love-filled haze. The championship is fast approaching, though. And Hal’s stuttering isn’t getting any better. Meanwhile, his brother is still stealing and his mother, well … some things never change.
This film, by writer/director Jeffrey Blitz, pulls back the veil on high school debating just as he did for spelling bees with Spellbound, his successful documentary. Here, Blitz shows us “spreading,” the popular rapid-fire speech pattern used by successful debaters to convey their points as quickly as possible in a short amount of time. He also shows us what it’s like to be in high school—without all the clichés and sugarcoating that plague other school films. As one of the actors says, in the DVD featurette, how quickly we forget the complexities—and the cruelties—of high school society.
It’s really a film for adults, however—especially parents who are too preoccupied with their lives to take notice of what’s happening with their children. Many scenes are used quite effectively to show what it’s like for teens to bear witnesses to their parents’ search for sexual fulfillment, both in and outside the marriage. And, while they may be shrewd, will make some uncomfortable, because they involve frank discussions about sex and sexuality. Usually, however, they are also funny.
For example, in one scene, an adolescent boy shows another his father’s copy of The Kama Sutra. “Dad says he and Mom have done every one of these at least twice, and some hundreds of times,” he says, flipping through the book. “But he hasn’t been keeping track, which seems a real waste. I mean, he could be the Kama Sutra Barry Bonds and no one would even know it.”
In fact, all of the dialogue in the film is both realistic and at times, funny. A cafeteria matron says, “Sloppy Joes are all we have left. But they’re not that terrible if you’ve never had good ones before.” “Would you like the join our junior philosopher’s club?” says one kid to another in the library. “And I know what you’re thinking. But don’t worry—we read everything but Hegel. No Hegel!”
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