Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
What happens when an excruciatingly shy high school student with a stutter tries out for his high school’s competitive, fast-talking, ever so logical debate team? You get a film that tries to enhance its quirkiness for the sake of being quirky, with mixed results.
There’s an adolescent love interest, an apathetic, serial monogamist parent, a brutish, kelptomaniacal older brother, and an overflow of angst and repeated syllables. There are cafeteria lunches ordered because they are easier to pronounce than the alternative meal. For example, fish is quicker to say than anything that starts with a dreaded “P” as in pizza – and that rhymes with “T” and that stands for Trouble…ooops, wrong film, one that knows how to garner interest in the subject matter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Hal Hefner, (Reece Daniel Thompson) cursed with a name that’s half dork/half cool, frequently gets stuck in a vocal groove like an old vinyl album that skips. A surprising debate team recruitment on the school bus by Ginny (Anna Kendrick) has him intrigued and smitten, a combination that to the adolescent brain can equal a fearless type of hope that is not backed up by any kind of reality. Hal plods along in verbal snow shoes while his more loquacious peers glide along on icy skates of elocution. Still, Hal perseveres in the name of true crush.
Dad Doyle (Denis O’Hare) has walked out on the family. Mom Juliet (Lisbeth Bartlett) is oblivious to her sons or the strange family dynamics. She takes a Korean lover, Heston, (Aaron Yoo) the judge who lives next door with a son of his own, Hal’s classmate in fact. The blended pseudo family pretends to be happy. Brother Earl (Vincent Piazza) careens between being Hal’s tormentor and advocate.
Meanwhile, Ginny dazzles Hal with logic bordering on insult and he is hooked to the point of obsession. She becomes the world of pure, uninterrupted speech; a powerful seduction for the tongue tripping nebbish.
Then a messy reality sets in, topped with betrayal and heartbreak and way too small of a triumph in the end to make up for the quirky journey that will underwhelm you. It’s like hitting a speed bump with a tank. The response is, “So?”
Even when Hal enlists some unexpected help from disgraced ex-debater Ben (Nicholas D’Agostino) the resulting events are unnervingly anticlimactic.
Filmed in Baltimore but supposed to be New Jersey, that great punch line state, the in-joke just sits around as if to say, “What do you expect? It’s Jersey!” The meaninglessness of this fact fits right in with the ordinariness of the unfolding events.
Director Jeffrey Blitz (Spellbound) captures awkward moments well, making Hal’s yearning almost palpable, but there is virtually no payoff to the mountain of angst or tiny self-discoveries that Hal makes during the course of the film. Situations stay firmly in middle ground with no great highs or lows, just drab ordinariness and a faint echo of “who cares?” following our struggling adolescent around. Pizza seems too faint a trophy for our tongue-tied hero, and a mouthful is sure to disappoint after the first bite.
Virtually all of the adult figures in the film are portrayed as loony, needy creatures that don’t get it and never will. What’s a kid to do when his world is populated by such inferior guides? Hal is left to his own devices, with no strong role models to lead the way, so we follow him on his floundering adventure to the land of “Is that all there is?”
Reece Daniel Thompson is likeable enough. You want to support him, pull for him and see him succeed, but the film will not allow for it. Well, aside from that pizza victory. At least he can munch on his coveted snack and reflect on his meaningless journey through the land of unrequited love and competitive debates.
Anna Kendrick is extremely competent in her portrayal of the confident, fast-talking, debate-a-holic. Her performance is wasted in a film that is too sluggish for her abundant energy, and she is one of the only points of interest in it.
Nicholas D’Agostiono has perhaps the best scene in the entire film, the one which opens it and shows his skill as an ace debater (or master debater, yikes!) who experiences a meltdown onstage at a crucial moment in a key competition.
Vincent Piazza is scary and unpredictable as older brother Earl, and that makes his character one the most realistic of the whole cast next to Thompson’s.
The title could use a “Not” either in front of or behind it.