Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Rocket Science


Absolutely nothing about this total mess of a movie makes sense. Nothing at all. Anna Kendrick (in her second movie role; she was twenty-two and looks younger) is a highly competitive high school student in the state debate finals. Her partner inexplicably is suddenly struck mute. Can’t get a word out. They come in second place.

She is in search of a partner for next year’s competition. Hal, a nerdy student, is called up on stage in an assembly. It is instantly clear that he’s a stutterer. (And what’s with the fucking clueless teachers, who have to know of his affliction. So they call him up to the stage?) Aha! thinks Anna. Here is the perfect new debate partner! So she takes him under her wing, thinking who-knows-what. Naturally he falls in love with her, since she is the first person who has ever noticed him.

And it just gets worse. I kept expecting him to get a little better, but no. So she dumps him. At around this point we admitted to each other that we were just hating this shit. But I wanted to find out what happened, so I started FFing through it. I thought, if this guy ends up winning the state championships, I’m going to have to look up the writer of this crap and put a serious hurtin’ on him. Luckily, it doesn’t go that far.

Hal finds that he can read stuff aloud if he sings it. There is some basis in fact for this. The country singer Mel Tillis stutters, but not when he sings. That seems to be the only realistic thing in the movie. Then, as far as I can tell, it just peters out with some sort of heartfelt scene with his absent father.

Oh, one more realistic and astonishing thing. Right from the first frames I was puzzled and repulsed by the way these debaters went about their work. They spoke in such a rapid-fire manner that it was hard to understand it. I didn’t believe it … but it’s true. It’s a technique called “spreading,” and you try to cram all possible arguments into your allotted time. It seems this idiotic thing is now the norm. What on Earth are they thinking? Debating should be about rhetoric, and reasoning, and making one or two cogent arguments, not about bludgeoning your audience over the head with a contest that might more accurately be called speed reading.