Son of Rambow
2008, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Garth Jennings. Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Hynes, Jules Sitruk, Ed Westwick, Neil Dudgeon.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., May 16, 2008
A congregant of a strict (and unspecified) religious sect in the early-Eighties, young Will Proudfoot (Milner) is a runty innocent mourning the sudden death of his father. His only solace lies in the outpourings of his imagination – in a scribbled flipbook, or his Bible, transformed by a box of Crayolas. Will has never seen TV, never watched a movie; when his pop-culture cherry gets popped, it's no kiddie pool splashing for him – he goes straight for the deep end, by way of Sylvester Stallone's jungle warrior in First Blood. Actually, it's an inadvertent baptism; Will stumbles upon a bootlegged VHS of the film while taking his first-ever steps toward making a friend. He couldn't have chosen a worse influence – Lee Carter (Poulter) is a fast-talking, chipmunk-cheeked pickpocket who's more or less raising himself. Borrowing a video camera, the two boys, both terribly starved for male affection, band together to make a homegrown sequel to First Blood called Son of Rambow. Will and Lee's makeshift special effects play endearingly daft (unlike the similarly themed Be Kind Rewind, the effects here feel authentically – and, in this case, preadolescently – DIY), and it's no surprise when the rest of their school starts to take notice. Pretty soon everyone's clamoring to be a part of the production, including a French exchange student named Didier (Sitruk). He's a red-booted New Waver and a veritable rock star to all the British squares in their school uniforms, and while he could have been a one-note gag – or simply an excuse for the film's terrific musical cues of the Cure and Siouxsie & the Banshees – the filmmakers gently tweak Didier to illustrate that everyone is wounded, everyone is misunderstood, and everyone secretly wants to play a ninja in the movies. Those filmmakers, by the way, are Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith, longtime London-based creative partners who have produced some of the past two decades' most inventive music videos. They also collaborated for the 2005 adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy – essentially a buddy comedy that didn't entirely work but thematically precursored Son of Rambow's central charm. Yes, there's the Eighties nostalgia and post-Wes Anderson oddball beats and deadpan timing (fun, if a little indie de rigueur), but the real pleasure of the piece is in its uncommon, unaffected portrayal of male intimacy. Lee and Will take a knife to their palms to become blood brothers, but they needn't have bothered: They're already bonded for life over their shared love of make-believe and a same broken-heartedness over being abandoned. Although it isn't being sold as such, Son of Rambow makes a great family film, so long as parents don't mind the occasional cuss word and they take a moment to explain to Junior that cigarette smoking played a little differently in Lee Carter's Thatcher-era, pastoral, and parentless Britain. It's worth the talk in order to share this marvelous film – funny and sweet and guaranteed to flood you with good feeling. (For an interview with the filmmakers, see "Look, Ma, All Hands," May 16.)