I guess the air was even thinner at Sundance this year, where Rocket Science was embraced, sold, and lazily compared to the work of Wes Anderson (Rushmore, etc.). It's nowhere near as good, nor does it touch the documentary Spellbound—to which it also drew comparison, not only because Jeffrey Blitz directed both. Here the subject is high-school debate teams in New Jersey, based on Blitz's own experience as an awkward, stuttering teen. But don't be fooled. Rocket Science again demonstrates the phenomenon of "festival goggles" (as Variety recently put it), and it's this year's successor to Thumbsucker—another twee coming-of-age flick that appeals to the trucker-hat-and-bell-bottom set but never pulls its head out of the suburban lawn. There's simply no script here to provide a story destination for attractive and capable young leads Reece Thompson and Anna Kendrick (as his manipulative, driven, debate-team Svengali and major crush, like Tracy Flick but aware of her faults). Blitz is merely a collector of moments, plus the occasional solid laugh, without anything bigger in mind than that his shy, stammering hero must, yes, come of age. If only Sundance would do the same.
Thompson prepares to debate.
Opens at Uptown, Fri., Aug. 10. Rated R. 98 minutes.