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Sundance: “Rocket Science.”

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"Trenton makes, the world takes."
Five years ago, Jeffrey Blitz charted the class issues and unexpectedly epic dramas within the subculture of spelling bees in "Spellbound." In "Rocket Science," his first narrative feature, he delves into another world filled with the generally unsung triumphs and defeats of academic competition — ah, high school debate, where a small, stalwart population of besuited teens (among them, once, a certain film blogger) battle out issues often negligible to their lives in language sprinkled with starchy phrases like "be that as it may."

Putting aside our personal and nearly fatal pangs of horrified recognition, "Rocket Science" is yet another addition to the sensitive, slightly obnoxious teenage boy quirkily comes of age genre, an approximate halfway point between "Rushmore" and "The Squid and the Whale." Be that as it may, it’s highly watchable — Blitz is ridiculously adept at capturing the petty dramas of teen life that can loom so large when you’re in their midst, and star Reece Thompson, who plays the shy, stuttering Hal Hefner, has a wide-eyed likability. Hal is recruited by his suburban New Jersey school’s reigning debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), who’s short a partner and who claims to see in Hal debate potential due to what she assumes is a wealth of pent-up rage he’s surely harboring. Hal is immediately smitten; he starts to believe in his own unlikely public speaking potential even as he openly and awkwardly pursues Ginny and, in one amusingly blocked scene, gives her a kiss that she aggressively turns around and takes control of. Hal’s naive malleability can be painful to witness, particularly once Ginny changes her plans and abandons him, but he pulls himself together for a finale that’s neither expected nor too easy.

"Rocket Science" has its share of problems — it goes on too long, and it’s saddled with a needless and irritating voiceover and far too many swelling music moments. Still, the film has an unfeigned sweetness that, in combo with clever throwaway details like a couple whose music therapy involves playing Violent Femmes songs on a cello and piano, make it a welcome variation on a Sundance trope.

Picturehouse will release "Rocket Science" on August 10.

+ "Rocket Science" (Sundance)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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