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Critic wrangle: “Rocket Science.”

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"Deformed people are the best. Maybe because they have a deep reserve of anger."
"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that manages to dart in some unexpected, if not revelatory, directions in its tale of Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson), a withdrawn stutterer who’s recruited for the debate team by his crush.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 Hal’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 movie’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."

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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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