It seems fitting that a movie about debate should produce ambivalent feelings. Is this fiction feature from Jeffrey Blitz, maker of the 2002 spelling-bee doc Spellbound, yet another Eagle vs. Little Miss Napoleon Dynamite quirkfest that practically frames its characters in cartoon panels, or is it a plaintive comedy-drama about a kid's first inklings of human complexity? The evidence can be argued both ways in this mix of sleeve-tugging whimsy and keenly recalled misery, set against the high-stakes backdrop of the Plainsboro, New Jersey, public school system. As Hal Hefner, a stuttering teen coaxed into joining the school debate team by glib master debater Ginny Ryerson (Anna Kendrick, piercing body armor with her AK-47 delivery), star Reece Daniel Thompson is an endearingly gangly, gallant presence: He has the wistful look of a hungry pup just inches shy of a steak. The law of niche-sports comedy says that Hal will tame his stutter, capture Ginny's heart, and make the final round at state. But Ginny is made of sterner stuff and so is the movie, which follows a series of bold late-film twists to a hauntingly unresolved conclusion.
Jeff BlitzReece Thompson, Anna Kendrick, Vincent Piazza, Nicholas D'Agosto, Aaron Yoo, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Dionne Audain, John Patrick Barry, Lisbeth Bartlett, Andrew CollieJeffrey BlitzEffie Brown, Sean WelchPicturehouse