Reviewed by Jo Wood
Stars Reece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza,
Nicolas D'Agosto, Josh Kay, Margo Martindale,
Aaron Yoo, Dionne Audain, Josh Kay
Written by Jeffrey Blitz
Certification UK 15 | US R
Runtime 101 minutes
Directed by Jeffrey Blitz
This is an American indie coming-of-age movie, filled with desire and angst. We follow our hero, stuttering Hal Hefner (Thomson) as he's recruited for the school debate team by predetorial Ginny (Kendrick), who inexplicably thinks Hal will be able to debate because "deformed people have a hidden source of power". Hal has his fair share of troubles, which he muses over from the relative safety of the janitor's cupboard — from the breakup of his parents and his mothers subsequent relationship with a Korean lover; to his kleptomaniac (and comedy genius) brother Earl (Piazza), who nicks just about anything he can lay his grubby hands on; to his completely inept councilor who muses "it's a shame you’re not hyperactive" in an upfront admission about his own incompetence.
But when Ginny takes an interest in Hal and enrolls him one morning on the school bus having lost her pervious debating partner, Hal's world erupts like a sexual time bomb. Overpowering Ginny occupies Hal's every thought, leading to an unlikely, awkwardly affectionate friendship with a kid who lives opposite her. Based on a simple storyline of unrequited love, this film is darker and grittier that your average teenage saga. A deep voiced, all-American, droll narrator talks us through the pains of Hal's existence in a gloomy yet hopeful world.
The young cast develop wonderfully in their characters. Thompson plays Hal superbly, with more astoundingly performances from Ginny (Kendrick) who is realistically sadistic in her drive and manipulation, and Earl (Piazza) who manages to epitomise the confusion of a brother’s love in adolescence, while muddling away at his compulsion to steal. Jeffrey Blitz, who's Academy Award nominated documentary Spellbound launched him to fame, stuttered himself as a child, but unlike Hal, found success and won the New Jersey state championships in policy debate in his senior year. His knowledge and sympathy in this area, however, have made this film realistically depressing and realistic in the struggles of its characters. It’s failing, however, came in its length. Several times I thought the film was drawing to a close, only to be kept by another chapter, not all of them incredibly relevant.