Saturday, April 5, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

In the coming-of-age comedy Rushmore Rocket Science, the main character, Max Fischer Hal Hefner, experiences latent anger over his mother's death his parents' divorce. Things aren't much better for him at Rushmore Plainsboro High School, where he has to deal with failing grades a stuttering problem and misguidedly attempts to win the love of Miss Cross Ginny, a teacher fellow student who unsuccessfully tutors him for his classes the debate team.

The horrors of adolescence always have tragicomic potential, but Napoleon Dynamite Rocket Science prefers ironic posturing over emotional gravity. When Napoleon's Hal's lonely uncle mother begins a romantic relationship with a black woman Asian man, the ethnic disparity is played for cheap laughs. Thusly, when Max Napoleon Hal attempts to cope by producing plays helping Pedro win the class presidency winning a debate championship, there's dissonance between the sincerity of the performers and the objectives of the filmmaker.

The director, Wes Anderson Jared Hess Jeffrey Blitz, mixes a detached style with fetishistic bric-a-brac filling the corners of every frame. He also employs an omniscient narrator, voiced by Alec Baldwin Dan Cashman, and flavors his film with music by The Ramones The Violent Femmes to underscore the protagonist's roiling emotions. An undercurrent of ostensible empathy for Napoleon Hal leads to a few good scenes that don't play out the way you expect, and Jason Schwartzman's Jon Heder's Reece Daniel Thompson's performance is extremely committed to the nuances of his character. (As the female lead, Olivia Williams Anna Kendrick is also fine, even if her character is abandoned just as she threatens to get interesting.) Nevertheless, juggling so many tones is difficult to accomplish, and whether intended or not, Hess's Solondz's Field's Blitz's sense of contempt and superiority are ultimately what comes across in place of the film's better virtues. Despite the unpredictable turns of its plot, Rushmore Napoleon Dynamite Welcome to the Dollhouse Little Children Rocket Science feels oddly familiar.


Anonymous said...

This is a clever post but ultimately more clever than it is true. That there are sentences constructed that different plot points can be dropped into is silly. Almost any Western narrative could probably be fit into that kind of framework. What's more interesting is that you have to give up this parallel construction idea so early into your description of Rocket Science because as the movie develops it takes increasingly big steps away from those other movies. Rather than judge a movie by where it starts shouldn't you judge it by where it goes? In fact, it becomes the anti-Rushmore, the anti-ND by showing how contrived those endings are. I got no sense of contempt or superiority in Rocket Science. It's much more heartfelt than that. Also, I didn't really get the bric-a-brac crammed into frames the way you do with Anderson films. It just felt more real than that. I think you fell in love with the idea of tarring this movie as unoriginal and you force those pieces even when they don't fit. Clever post. Too bad it's not true.

Craig said...

You have a point, one that I was debating with myself while writing the post, but sometimes I like to experiment just to see where a piece goes, even if it doesn't always work. I do know that I didn't like the movie, that the framing of the scenes and the structure and the deadpan tone and a lot of other things seemed awfully derivative of the films I mentioned. Steve Park's character felt like a rehash of the one he played in Fargo, right down to his blubbering exit. Even the final scene between Hal and his father reminded me a lot of a similar scene early on in Rushmore (a movie I think I was more unfair to than this one, actually). I also wish Blitz had done more with the Ginny character; I liked her last bit -- and her line about raising his game -- but I think so much more could have been done with her in between.

I very much like the central idea of a character struggling to find his voice, but for me the director seemed more concerned with being overly clever than taking Hal's story seriously. An ironic criticism, I know, but if he doesn't care then why should I? If I had to pick one moment where Rocket Science lost me, it was the cello-and-piano "Blister in the Sun" recital. That was the deal-breaker.