Son of Rambow (2008)
Starring: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon, Anna Wing, Ed Westwick, Eric Sykes
Directed By: Garth Jennings
Son of Rambow is the sort of quiet indie with foreign cred that is long enough on charm to get those who see it to champion it as the sort of warm-hearted comedy the masses should be seeing instead of the mass-produced simple fare the Hollywood keeps pumping out. I’ve already come across reviews with that sentiment, and to tell the truth, after seeing the trailer, I was expecting to do the same after watching the movie.
But I can’t. Don’t get me wrong, it IS a charming little movie, with enough wonderful imagination and precocious performances by its young leads to make it an enjoyable enough experience. But beyond the cute concept, the nostalgic look at its period trappings (the early 80s), and the English accents, there isn’t much that separates Son of Rambow from an above-average Disney offering. It’s the sort of movie I wanted to like more than actually did like, with its lack of focus and debt to earlier, similar films (such as Rushmore) being the chief factors in tempering my enthusiasm.
The film follows Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) an imaginative young boy whose strict religious upbringing prevents him from watching films or television, who meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a school bully who enlists Will into helping him make his screen test for a junior filmmaker competition. After Will views a bootleg copy of First Blood that Lee is making for his older brother (Ed Westwick), Will is enthralled with the film, creating his own story that becomes the basis for he and Lee Carter’s movie, a movie they must keep secret from Will’s family.
The film is at its best when Will and Lee Carter are finding creative ways to make Will’s crazy movie, as the two leads are mostly delightful and their antics are light-hearted fun. But, much like Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind, another film released this year about amateurs recreating their visions of other movies, the movie is at its weakest when it comes time to be a movie. Besides the two leads, none of the other characters are developed, which wouldn’t be a problem if writer/director Garth Jennings didn’t turn over so much of the movie to other characters and their problems.
While most of the movie is spent with Will and Lee Carter, a significant subplot is given to Jules Sitruk‘s Didier Revol, an exchange student from France whose exoticness instantly makes him a celebrity at school, complete with a sycophantic posse who follow his every move. It’s a cute gag, with this foreign kid bringing 80s new wave to the English countryside, that lingers too long to the point of annoyance. Just as Lee Carter resents how Didier starts to take over he and Will’s movie, I resented how he started to take over Son of Rambow, and found myself disinterested when Jennings took one last crack at humanizing him as he leaves.
Similarly, the idea of Will’s ultra-religious upbringing was one that was initially interesting, but ultimately amounted to little as the movie’s lack of focus failed to capitalize. Thus, time spent with Will’s mother (Jessica Stevenson) and the authoritarian would-be father figure Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) was both another needless distraction and opportunity lost.
In lingering around subplots and supporting characters that are never developed long enough to warrant genuine investment, the payoff for the film felt a little too pat for a film that had the opportunity to do better. Overall, it was still relatively enjoyable little film, one long on charm and ideas but ultimately short on execution.