Dave's Rating:

4.5

… unpredictable, hilarious and dour …

Who's in It: Reece Thompson, Vincent Piazza, Anna Kendrick, Nicholas D'Agosto

The Basics: A shy high school kid with a wicked stutter gets recruited for the debate team by a machine-gun-mouthed, self-obsessed girl who's determined to take home the state championship trophy for her senior year. But if you think you know how this sort of thing goes, you're in for a surprise. It's unpredictable, hilarious and dour, and it doesn't flinch away from Welcome to the Dollhouse-level teen misery.

What's the Deal? I wanted to hate this. It's smothered in that cute-indie-visual-style gravy that takes drab physical surroundings and heightens them into absurdity, framing shots to make everything look even goofier than it already is, making all the characters into silly, quirky nonpeople (example: Some neighborhood parents act out couples therapy by performing cello/piano duets of Violent Femmes songs) and balancing itself on that line between main-character-with-a-defect and irritating caricature. But what's cool is that it just teases you with that stuff before turning into something you really end up caring about. Best of all, it doesn't feel the need to ingratiate itself and give you a neatly tied-up ending.

Who's Great: Kendrick as the meanest debate-team girl you'd ever have the misfortune to be speaking against. If you saw the indie musical Camp (pretty funny, and not just for musical-theater nerds) then you'll remember her as the understudy for the teen production of Sondheim's Company who puts Woolite in the lead girl's drink and then shows up ready to sing "Ladies Who Lunch."

Pedigree: From Jeffrey Blitz, who directed the 2003 documentary Spellbound. So, someone's obsessed with school competitions.

For Fans Of: Election, Heathers, Rushmore.

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