2008 may very well be the year in which the main cinematic trend was in putting the camera in the hands of the characters, for them to document (Cloverfield), to make movies of their own (Be Kind Rewind), or do a bit of both (Diary of the Dead). So, from creative duo Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith (aka Hammer & Tongs – music video directors and the team behind the big screen The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) comes Son of Rambow – arriving off the back of Sylvester Stallone’s own fourth outing as the (almost) titular character. You couldn’t really have picked better timing.
It’s the early 80’s, and a chance encounter between young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), from a deeply religious family of Plymouth Brethren members, and school tearaway Lee Carter (Will Poulter) leads them into an unlikely friendship of sorts. When Lee enlists Will to become the stuntman in the film he’s making for BBC’s children show Screen Test, a chance viewing of a bootlegged copy of First Blood sets Will’s fervent imagination alight and so begins the filming of ‘Son of Rambow’. But religious commitments, bullying brothers and the arrival of the French exchange students, notably the super-cool Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk), threaten the shoot – will the Son of Rambow get the bad guys and ever rescue his father?
As with the aforementioned Be Kind Rewind, Son of Rambow is not a straightforward film parody; while the big laughs are similarly found in the moviemaking process, Jennings understands just like Michel Gondry that a 90 minute YouTube pisstake does not a good film make, and what Son of Rambow pulls off is building up the touching relationship between the two main protagonists. Both Milner and Poulter live their roles, delivering fine complimentary performances that allow them to behave just like, well, kids (rather than the wooden cue-carding or creepy adult-like delivery of other child actors). And while there are the inevitable dips into the formulaic (the customary falling-out, the confrontations between religious values and just being a kid, dealing with family problems), they mostly manage to steer away from the saccharine sickliness of many a Hollywood effort.
But where it best succeeds is in recreating the combined thrill and tedium of your childhood years: watching films you were far too young to see, sitting through seemingly endless Geography lessons, the countless near-death/serious injury dares and stunts you pulled. The film’s best scenes are saved for Didier and his amassed posse of younger wannabes (think Rufio and The Lost Boys from Hook), leading to a chance visit to the sixth-form common room, a fantasy nightclub of Depeche Mode dance routines, popping candy and Coca-Cola combinations and temporary tattoos. When Didier volunteers himself to become the star of our heroes’ film, it’s both strangely beautiful and downright hilarious.
With so much going on with periphery characters hither and thither and the backstories for both Will and Lee to be thoroughly explored, there are times when the narrative leaps about just a little too much during its rather short running time (at least in this day and age), but it doesn’t collapse under its own ambitions thanks to spirited performances, ceaselessly creative sequences and its genial feel-good nature. Jennings’ eye for cinema has been well-honed throughout his career, but for only his second feature film, he displays a heart and joyful playfulness that shows real confidence in the material (loosely based as it is on his own personal experiences growing up).
It’s perhaps the most accurate portrayal of kids as they really are (cussing, obnoxious, violent; but still just kids) since The Goonies, and deserves to be a big family film hit – only the most uptight and ignorant of parents would prevent their tykes from seeing children their same age swearing and getting into scrapes like they no doubt do every day. Perhaps it would make a good double bill with This is England? Or Rambo? Either way, it comes highly recommended. Skills.