Writing about high school is never easy. When it's good (Freaks and Geeks comes to mind), it's exceptional. When it's bad (anything that isn't Freaks and Geeks), it's not terrible. It's worse. It's derivative, and moreover, it's apathetic. When movies or books or scripts centering around High School (as a subject) fail to hit the target, it's much less about the movie or book or script being terrible and much more about it being simply mediocre.
And wasn't that what high school was about, anyway? You couldn't be the best. You weren't the worst, either. At most, on your very best day, you were mediocre. You slid by unnoticed by the upper or lower echelons of social status and that was considered the triumph. Sure, there is a lot more to it, but at the end of the day, I'm fairly certain that most of us were neither the best nor the worst, but somewhere in between, along with everybody else.
On Saturday night, Adam and I watched Rocket Science, a whip-smart movie about high school and insecurities and first loves, and all the things that a movie about high school is always about. But unlike so many of its clique-hawking peers, this one manages to transcend the typical clichés associated with a Movie About High School by being simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious.
One scene in particular rises to the surface as one of the best uses music and film since Luke Wilson attempted to end it all with Elliott Smith warbling about needles and hays in The Royal Tenenbaums.
I'll pause right now and warn you that what follows may or may not contain mild spoilers. So if you're the type who so much as hears the title of a movie and immediately knows too much to enjoy the film (Jess), then don't continue reading. But, if you're the type who immediately asks "So what happened?" about any movie you haven't seen (Ashley, I'm talking to YOU), then onward, Christian soldier.
In this particular scene, Hal Hefner (Reece Thompson) has just discovered that the love of his life, or at least the love of this month, Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick), is capable not only of making him love her, but of subsequently stomping his poor heart to smithereens as well. (Didn't give too much away yet, right? No nuanced plot points, anyway. Well, read on.) It's a desperate, terrible moment when you realize, just as Hal does, that even his briefest and most furtive ideas about their future together are nothing but just that--ideas. The type of thing you think about while drifting off in math class. The type of thing that you want so badly to believe will be reality but know that, in fact, it won't be. It can't be.
So Hal responds in the only way a heartbroken kid with a debilitating stutter who just found out that the love of his life was manipulating him to win a debate trophy would: He finds a bottle of booze (the brown type. Lethal, man), sputtering liquid everywhere as he nevertheless plunders on, alternately gulping and gagging, growing more and more drunk until he wobbles on his bicycle to Ginny's house.
Hal's dawning realization and subsequent climactic cinematic freak-out unravels nervously in tandem with the Violent Femmes' "Kiss Off." It's the type of song we all remember from high school, a perennially nostalgic artifact that jolts us into a kind of reverie. Yeah, I remember those times. Those were the times, man, and they were good and man, they were terrible.
So Hal and His Freak-Out pulsate dangerously in response to Brian Ritchie's rambling bassline as the scene unfolds with a kind of frantic, jittery caffeinated high. The fraying climax arrives slowly; Hal's anger churns as he watches Ginny's bedroom window from a house across the street. When her bedroom light--which is shuttered by lace curtains--goes out, he sputters, "She can't be going to bed yet!"
The boiling point gradually bubbles toward the surface ("I take one, one, one 'cos you left me,") as Hal, in an act of drunken desperation, seizes a cello from his friend's living room and proceeds to smash it through the front window of Ginny's house. The entire thing froths and foams and seethes with angst as Gordon Gano finally reaches ten and gasps, "For everything, everything, everything, everything...they'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time!"
At the scene's end, the only response Hal Hefner can pant in his detached agony is, "Um, there's a cello in your house now."
Here's a scene from the movie. I couldn't find any clips of the scene in question, but this should wet your appetite enough to get thee to thine Blockbuster and rent Rocket Science today. Also, type in "Violent Femmes Kiss Off" into your Hypem.com search window and download away, my cherubs.
You can all just kiss off into the air / behind my back I can see them stare / they'll hurt me bad but I won't mind / they'll hurt me bad, they do it all the time.