Jeffrey Blitz invokes the spirit of Hal Ashby's quiet comedies in more than just his hero's name. It is present in every honest nuance of his wonderfully observed characters.
A first feature of a very different kind is the subject of another of this week's DVD releases. The fictional film debut by the director Jeffrey Blitz picks up pretty much where his charming, Oscar-nominated 2002 documentary, Spellbound, left off. He's absorbed the quirks and tics of the teens of his prior film -but instead of the US National Spelling Bee, this time the competition in question is the state debate championships. Hal (Reece Thompson) is a skinny New Jersey kid with a near-debilitating stutter, who is, bizarrely enough, recruited onto the debate team by the mile-a-minute talker Ginny (Anna Kendrick). Slowly, and despite his struggles to order pizza in the lunch queue, Hal begins to believe that somehow he will manage to deliver a dynamite performance at the tournament. As his hope blooms, so does ours. Blitz invokes the spirit of Hal Ashby's quiet comedies (Being There, Harold and Maude) - albeit in a slighter form - in more than just his hero's name. It is present in every honest nuance of his wonderfully observed characters. Then there is the alt-country singer-songwriter Eef Barzelay's score. "Hey where is this bus going?" he asks on I Love the Unknown. Blitz's smartest move is to never try to answer Barzelay back.