Rocket Science Reviews
Interesting- in kinda awkward way... & sorta annoying at the same time, to be honest.
Maybe it's partly that I've seen so many indie movies that something like this seems trite instead of genuine, even if it is genuine. There were a lot of trademark indie coming of age movie signs in this movie, whether it's quirky offbeat characters (like the weird friend, Heston) or the take-charge girl the main character is crushing on, or the idea of singing at the climax to overcome stuttering. None of these are inherently offensive or overdone (the last one isn't something I've specifically seen in movies before), but there's something about them that can be a little grating and cutesy. I also spotted some Wes Anderson influence, maybe some of the comic timing or the loud score.
Luckily, the movie has a lot going for it. The cast is pretty great, with Anna Kendrick as a precocious debater who was pretty damn unlikable while still having a certain appeal you could see on Hal's face. That said, by far the standout is Reece Thompson. For the first half of the movie, he kind of seemed like the typical shy white kid who stars in every indie movie, but by the end he'd really grown on me, and I was surprisingly invested in his story.
Overall, I think it was the ending that won me over. I started liking the story more once Hal teamed up with Ben (Nicholas D'Agosto, radiating warmth, friendliness, and wisdom), a dynamic that worked really well, but I was kind of wary of a cheesy ending with Hal singing his whole monologue to overcome the stutter. It turned out to work pretty well because of Thompson's great delivery and generally shitty singing; you looked so vulnerable, and at a certain point it's hard to get too bitter about indie tropes when the actors carry it so genuinely. Better, though, Hal and Ben got kicked out of the competition. When that first happened, it seemed very abrupt and unsatisfying, but as it set in, I grew to really appreciate that they didn't go the obvious route; they didn't have the singing thing actually work, and they didn't have Hal get together with Ginny at the end. I really liked how their story ended, with Hal giving Ginny the finger, one recurring element I was surprised to always find funny. (That said, Ginny was a surprisingly evil character once she dropped out of his school and was revealed to be manipulating him. I would've liked a little more nuance, especially because her last statement that it was hard for her to betray Hal was kind of bullshit.)
There was one scene in particular that made the whole last act work for me, though. It's when Hal enters the pizza shop and orders a pizza, stuttering quite a bit but eventually triumphantly getting the word 'pizza' out. That whole scene is funny and touching, and it just pushed the movie over into solid 'I like this' territory.
Like I said at the start of this review, it's hard to classify what works and doesn't in a movie like this. Ultimately, people react differently to different things. So I'm not sure what it was about this movie specifically, but I wasn't enormously invested in Hal's relationship with Ginny, and I wasn't enormously invested in the ongoing desire to debate successfully, even though I did like his character and actor. But those pizza scenes worked on me in a way I didn't anticipate until that last one happened. I'm not sure what it is about that specific subplot that hit me, but it did, and it made a big difference.