Son of Rambow

As directed and written by Garth Jennings, Son of Rambow is an original childrens tale with an edge, a fresh, visually inventive take on the meaning of friendship, family ties, movie heroes, and the process of filmmaking itself.

Set in the Video Age (remember the VCR Revolution), the story takes place in 1980s Britain, where young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is raised in isolation among The Brethren, a puritanical religious sect in which music and TV are strictly forbidden. Its the kind of monastic discipline thats simply unbearable for most youths, particularly American, which explains the sagas particular context.

It just happens that the first movie Will encounters is a pirated copy of Sylvester Stallones Rambo: First Blood, a right-wing fantasy on the Vietnam War released in the U.S. in 1985, at the height of president Reagans popularity. Upon seeing the picture, Wills imagination is blown wide open. Anything is possible if Sly can revise history and go back to Vietnam and make it a winning battle. Highly influenced by the films macho action, Will sets out to join forces with the seemingly diabolical school bully Lee Carter (Will Poulter) to make their own action epic, devising wildly creative stunts, all the while hiding out from The Brethren.

When school popularity finally descends on Will and Lee Carter, and they manage to impress the super-cool French exchange student Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk), their remarkable new friendship and precious film are pushed to the breaking point.

Boasting a zany, occasionally surreal style, Son of Rambow is conceived as a reverie, and its a credit to the filmmakers that they found the right style to shoot it. Indeed, the saga is filmed in a creatively madcap, homemade style with a mostly amateur cast and a wry, comic-tinged nostalgia.

Though grounded in a very particular socio-historical locale, its the kind of yarn that also bears universal overtones for any teenagers (particularly boys in this case) who have grown in solitude or have been neglected by parents and siblings. Subject to peer pressure, its perfectly understood that these boys yearn desperately for social acceptance, if not popularity.

Garth Jennings and his producer Nick Goldsmith, a.k.a. Hammer & Tongs (who formerly made Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy), succeed in capturing both the agony and the ecstasy of a childhood defined by the then prevalent technology of camcorder, with humor, poignancy and sweetness rarely encountered in American films about growing pains.

Occasionally, the narrative succumbs to clichs, or generic conventions, but for the most part, the aptly titled Son of Rambow combines qualities seldom seen in such sagas: Its both charming and emotionally touching, attesting to the unpredictable power of movies on kids imagination. In fact, by dwelling on the effects of the experience, the filmmakers go around the issue of Rambos specific politics, relegating them to a secondary force.

While watching Son of Rambow, which premiered in January at the 2008 Sundance Film Fest, I kept thinking of what would be the equivalent filmic experience for girls growing up in the U.K. at the same timeand in other countries.

Cast

Will Proudfoot – Bill Milner
Lee Carter – Will Poulter
Didier – Jules Sitruk
Mary Proudfoot – Jessica Stevenson
Joshua – Neil Dudgeon

Credits

A Paramount Vantage release of a Celluloid Dreams/Hammer and Tongs/Reason Pictures/Good production in association with Arte France Cinema/Network Movie/ZDF/Arte/Soficinema 2 & 3. Produced by Nick Goldsmith.
Executive producers: Hengameh Panahi, Bristol Baughan, Benjamin Goldhirsh.
Directed, written by Garth Jennings.
Camera: Jess Hall.
Editor: Dominic Leung.
Music: Joby Talbot.
Production designer: Joel Collins.
Art director: Robyn Paiba.
Costume designer: Harriet Cawley.
Sound: Guillaume Sciama, Joseph Park-Stracey.
Visual effects supervisors: Jon Hollis, Sean Mathiesen.
Visual effects: Switch Productions.
Animation: Paul Heasman.
Stunt coordinator: Paul Heasman.

Running time: 96 Minutes.