Son of Rambow
|Will Poulter||Lee Carter|
|Directed by||Garth Jennings|
Writer-director Garth Jennings, whose first feature was the disappointing The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, has now made the movie he wanted to make in the first place. It’s an exuberant reunion with his inner child, the 11-year-old English boy who discovered the magic of movies in a pirated copy of First Blood, and set his feet on a life’s course of making them. The good news is that it’s less disappointing than the other one.
A good deal of it, in fact, is wonderful. And herein lies the curiosity of this giddy leap down memory lane. The structure here is a movie-within-a-movie, where the inner movie -- the one being made by Jennings’s inner child – gets most of the fun stuff. Jennings’s youthful alter ego is composed of two very different characters. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a good little boy – too good for his own good, in fact, an inmate of a puritannical religious sect called The Plymouth Brethren. He is being raised by his harried single mother Mary (Jessica Stevenson), his father having perished in a lawn-mowing accident. She is being smarmily courted by one of the younger elders of the sect, Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), who brings heavy pressure on her to keep her son in line with the values of the Brethren.
Will has a vivid imagination that runs wild in the cartoons he doodles in his school notebooks, but his upbringing is so strict that he is allowed no movies or television of any sort, and he has to leave the classroom when his teacher screens educational videos. It is during one of these enforced hall sessions that he makes the fateful acquaintance of Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a decidedly bad little boy who is out in the hall for misbehaving in class. It’s meeting cute on a high level – one boy sent out of class as a result of being good, the other for being bad. Like Will, Lee is to all intents and purposes fatherless – his parents are always traveling, and he’s looked after with a grudging carelessness by his older brother. Lee is the Huck Finn to Will’s Tom Sawyer. He smokes, he breaks rules, he lies, cheats, and steals. In other words, to a kid like Will, he’s the cat’s pajamas. Lee cons Will out of his most precious possession, his father’s watch, and he even presses Will into service as his chauffeur, pedaling him around on a stolen bicycle. Will doesn’t even think of resenting any of this. For him, just hanging around with Lee is more fun than anything he’s ever done.
Of Lee’s many desirable qualities, the most stunning is that he has a video camera. It’s actually his brother’s, and he doesn’t exactly have permission to use it, but he has the camera, and that is a passport to paradise. Neither boy is among the popularity elite at school, but once the word gets out that they are making a movie, everyone in school wants in on the act, even the super-cool Parisian exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk), who has the English schoolboys fawning and the schoolgirls’ hearts melting like butter on French toast.
What Jennings and his producing partner and boyhood friend Nick Goldsmith remember so fondly is how damned much fun it was to create movies out of nothing when they were kids. That was in the 1980s, and they have lovingly recreated the England of their youth, with clothes and attitudes and artifacts, and sharp dialogue loaded with slang expressions like “skill” (meaning nifty, or cool, and taken to the next level in a phrase like “skill on toast.”) The pop culture references will probably resonate more deeply with British audiences that they will with Americans, who may appreciate them but will not feel them in the nostalgic gut.
The movie the kids are making is an homage to the Stallone Rambo epic that Lee pirated by smuggling his camera into a theater, and which opened Will’s sect-muffled head to the intoxicating wonders of the movies. Lee calls his movie Son of Rambow, and he dresses an old man from a nursing home (Eric Sykes) in a Stallonesque wig and duds as Rambow pere. Lee is the writer and director, and Will cheerfully undertakes whatever crazy stunts Lee assigns him, including swinging from a rope and dropping into the middle of a pond, even though he can’t swim (there should perhaps be a “Don’t try this at home” disclaimer attached to this movie.) All of this stuff is exhilarating, and the cartoonish quality to the risks and the violence plays into the atmosphere of childhood imagination.
Some of the other aspects of the movie are less successful. The bashing of the religious sect isn’t particularly original, and the other students’ sucking up to and swooning over the French exchange student wears out quickly. The middle of the picture sags a bit as Jennings tries to bridge the inspiration of his premise to the sentimental end game. Jennings is clearly having a wonderful time recreating the fantasies of his youth, but sometimes his perspective get a little too inbred, and the picture suffers for it.
But the two boys, both in their screen debuts, are unselfconscious and full of mischief, and Son of Rambow is likely to bring more than a few smiles to your face.
© Text 2008 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be