To movie fans and New Jersey natives alike, Zach Braff’s Garden State was a mixed bag.  On one hand, it had some solid moments and some wonderful shots of our home state.  On the other, it was a little too heralded by faux-hipsters and it really could have been filmed anywhere in America, outside of a mention of Rutgers and a few town names here and there.

But now, NJ filmgoers have something to be proud of in Rocket Science, the sophomore effort by director Jeffery Blitz (Spellbound). The film tells the story of Hal Hefner, played by Reece Thompson (who believably played a 14 year old in 2007, but whose IMDb page now makes him look like a male model). Hefner is a young high school student in Plainsboro, NJ, who suffers from a severe stutter. He is recruited for the debate team by Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), one of the state’s top student debaters.

The film goes on to be a fascinating exploration into speech disorder, and a study of young teens struggling to comprehend the nature of love and sex. Beyond that, Rocket Science is a wonderful window into New Jersey life that stretches beyond the artifice of Garden State and doesn’t pander to detractors hoping to hear the negative NJ-slams that are all too common today.

As I mentioned earlier, the film mostly takes place in Plainsboro Township, New Jersey. It also ventures to Trenton and down the Shore, as well as a few NJ high schools where the debate competitions are held.  The characters also speak about NJ towns in a way that true Jerseyans might, with no explanations given to out-of-staters.  At one point in the film, a character discusses moving from the suburbs to the big city as he walks through Trenton.  Though outsiders might view it as a joke, for any kid living in the Jersey suburbs, Trenton certainly is a big city.  The movie treats the line with respect and, in the larger picture, treats the state with a great amount of respect as well.

The great diversity of the film, featuring high schools populated with Korean and Indian students, rings truer with our state than any other in the nation.  New Jersey suburbs are increasingly diverse, and in Middlesex County where the film takes place, that is due to the rise of Asian and Indian populations.  This attention to detail pushes the film from just a movie set in New Jersey to one that is, on the whole, about New Jersey.

I highly recommend it, not just as a New Jerseyan but as a fan of independent movies. The DVD is out now, so if you’ve had your fill of big hair jokes and mob connections and want to see a very good movie that shines an honest but kind light on our state, check out Rocket Science.

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