Friday, May 9, 2008

Son of Rambow

It opened in limited release last week. This review is reprinted with permission from Primetime A&E (thanks, Trina).


We're not halfway into 2008 and we've already had two major releases about the life-affirming effects of home movies. Be Kind Rewind came out in February, and this month brings Son of Rambow, from creative team Hammer & Tongs (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)—producer Garth Jennings and writer/director Nick Goldsmith,

The first movie, from acclaimed director Michel Gondry, felt like an extensive bout of rudderless creative activity, a good excuse to stretch gimmicks and art house tomfoolery into a feature-length film. Plus, it supported the theory that anyone can make movies, which is certainly true. Whether a fraction of these movies are even any good, well, that's one investigation I'm not pursuing.

Son of Rambow uses home movies in a less pretentious way; it doesn't congratulate itself for being clever or for trying to better the masses. Here, making a movie serves as a salvation in the 1980s for two friendless English schoolboys, and as the basis for a thoughtful and compassionate look at childhood.

Lee Carter (Will Poulter) and Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) are both misfits, though for very different reasons. Carter is a bored rich kid with virtually no parental supervision. His days consist of stealing, bootlegging movies, and generally causing holy hell. The catch is that no one seems to care. Will is a quiet, meek boy whose fierce creativity is in danger of being suffocated by his family's stern religion, which features a wardrobe whose sole aim seems to be providing perpetual discomfort. These two are a perfect match: Will needs someone to show him a good time and Carter needs someone to validate his recklessness and himself.

What becomes a friendship starts as business. Carter and Will get into trouble at school, but Lee takes the rap and forces a scared Will to be the stuntman for his movie. Though initially reluctant, Will becomes a full-fledged participant after a series of events leads him to watch a bootlegged copy of First Blood. He and Carter soon agree to make a sequel to the Sylvester Stallone action flick that involves (of course) an evil scarecrow and a flying dog, setting up the start of an eventful friendship.

Forces—a wildly popular French exchange student (Jules Sitruk), Will's family values—conspire to tear the friends apart while turning their little movie into an epic, but Son of Rambow isn't a peewee version of The Kid Stays in the Picture. It's really about the thrills and agonies of growing up. It's about having a friend who makes you feel that whenever you're together anything is possible; the pangs of jealousy when other people enter that dynamic; that popularity is an elusive and almost mysterious property. Jennings cleverly uses the boys' moviemaking adventure to highlight these themes, instead of devoting a load of separate scenes on each message.

What Son of Rambow succeeds at best is showing the thrill of being young and having a passion, an intoxicating mix. After Will watches First Blood, he runs home, shooting at airplanes from his own drawings. The whole world becomes his creative outlet, not a bathroom stall or his flipbooks. He finally realizes what being a kid is all about—letting the world wash over you and not giving a damn about the consequences. The movie has that same energy. You never feel like Will and Carter are delinquents, but two kids who don't want their time to run out. It's almost impossible not to like this movie. A big reason why are Milner and Poulter, two talented newcomers, who most likely devoid of pushy stage mothers and years of auditions, act like kids. Their refreshing lack of adult presence and abundance of charisma further solidifies the movie's theme of childhood abandon. Oh, and they capture the rocky patches just fine.

Son of Rambow's energy lags toward the end, as the brisk nostalgic energy turns into gooey sentiment. Still, it's a wonderful little movie that could be a surprise hit, as it doesn't just wallow in 1980s pop culture icons but recreates the potent mix of feelings that is childhood. Unlike Be Kind Rewind, substance triumphs over style. Let's just hope audiences are inspired to go through old yearbooks instead of starting the video camera.

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