"Rocket Science," the second film and first scripted effort from Jeffrey Blitz, the director of the excellent doc "Spellbound," is definitely a Sundance film, but one that we liked well enough (our review from the festival is here) and one that manages to dart in some unexpected, if not revelatory, directions in its tale of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a withdrawn stutterer who’s recruited for the debate team by his crush. As Stephen Holden at the New York Times wisely observes, "This is a genre that insists (often annoyingly) on flaunting a supposedly rarefied sensibility. Your affection for ‘Rocket Science’ will depend on the depth of your identification with Halâ€™s angst and the degree to which you regard high school as the ultimate microcosm of American life." Holden seems to be sympathetic to this mindset, and notes that "The surest sign of the movieâ€™s integrity is that it resists any temptation to build the story to a climactic debate." For similar reasons, Armond White at the New York Press unloads on the film all of the scorn he reserves for those most dreaded hipster indies, deriding its "self-pitying narcissism" and concluding that "just as Rocket Science gets garbled up in its own cuteness, Hal represents the d-d-d-d-d-degeneration of the indie teen movie."
Most everyone else drifts in between these two opinions: Stephanie Zacharek at Salon thinks that the film is a "well-meaning little picture that’s piercingly genuine in places and annoyingly affected in others"; Anthony Kaufman at indieWIRE writes that "’Rocket Science’ isn’t the most original or complex American film in years. But it’s humor and sincerity more than makes up for its familiar setting." Jim Ridley at the Village Voice declares his ambivalence, finding that the film "lacks Spellbound’s kaleidoscopic richness, its curiosity about the lives of others," but lauding the surprises and lack of easy resolution in the second half. Scott Tobias at the Onion AV Club suggests that despite dwelling in overly familiar territory, "the film carves out a place for itself anyway, because it’s so determined to undercut expectations and access the feelings of a stuttering boy who can’t express them on his own."
Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly places the film squarely in the territory of the "terminally annoying, depressive-yet-coy Sundance faves in which the tale of a mopey teen misfit unfolds behind a hard candy shell of irony." And Nick Schager at Slant expositions "Quirky, quirky, quirky goes Rocket Science. Round, round, round roll my eyes," saluting Thompson’s performance while disliking the film’s "general disinterest in believable characterizations or scenarios" and its "abundant preciousness."