Son of Rambow
Written and Directed by: Garth Jennings
Starring: Bill Milner, Jessica Hynes, Will Poulter, Neil Dudgeon, Jules Sitruk
After the critical and commercial failure of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, British director Garth Jennings has regrouped with a smaller, much more personal film based loosely on his own childhood. We first started hearing about Son of Rambow when it hit the festival circuit last year to rave reviews. Paramount Vantage picked up the film for a reported $8 million at Sundance, a deal that put it in the same league as Little Miss Sunshine. Obviously they expected big things from it, so why did they then sit on the film for a year and a half before giving it a limited release with minimal marketing?
Son of Rambow is a heart-warming tale of a shy young boy named Will, who, due to his strict religion, is not allowed to watch TV or movies. When he inadvertently befriends the school troublemaker, Lee Carter, he finds himself pulled into Lee’s madcap attempt to create a homemade movie and enter it in a young filmmaker contest. But it isn’t until Lee shows Will a bootleg tape of the first Rambo movie, First Blood, that Will’s imagination is set loose and he becomes obsessed with making an action movie of their own. Along the way, however, they both have family issues to deal with, and they find their friendship stretched to the breaking point.
It’s kind of a strange coincidence that Son of Rambow is being released in the same year as Sylvester Stallone’s comeback sequel Rambo. Stallone has supposedly given the film his seal of approval (I guess he would have to, in order for them to get the rights to show a few clips from First Blood), but it’s not about Rambo as much as you might think it is. There is never really any direct parody of First Blood, so if you’re hoping for something like that, this is definitely the wrong movie for you.
However, this also brings mind to another strange coincidence… Son of Rambow is being released a few months after Michel Gondry’s similarly themed Be Kind Rewind. I’d be lying if I said that Be Kind Rewind didn’t steal some of the thunder from Son of Rambow, which is too bad considering that Son of Rambow was actually completed first. Personally I felt that Be Kind Rewind was the more interesting film, but for the people who thought that Michel Gondry missed the mark, you might find Son of Rambow more appealing because of the coming of age story at its core.
However, that’s not to say I disliked Son of Rambow; I actually thought it was really sweet and I could relate to Will’s character a lot because I was a bit of an introverted kid and my parents were somewhat strict about what I was allowed to watch when I was younger. I also dig movies that are partially autobiographical, because there is a level of passion and care behind them that you don’t see that often (Almost Famous is another one that comes to mind right now, but I’m sure there are plenty of others). My only real complaint with Son of Rambow was that the sentimental ending felt a little too contrived. (Oh, and that French exchange student subplot also got to be a bit much by the end.)
Garth Jennings is known for directing music videos with unique special effects, and although there are a couple of neat dream sequences in this movie, for the most part he relies on his actors to tell the story (with the help of some fun camerawork). The film’s young stars Will Poulter and Bill Milner shine here, giving performances that are on par with the kids in Danny Boyle’s Millions (and just about any other child actors I’ve seen in recent years). Spaced fans will also be pleased to see Jessica Stevenson playing Will’s mother, and although the role isn’t really a comedic one, she does a great job with it.
There weren’t many of us out there who actually liked Hitchhiker’s Guide, but I don’t think I’m alone in my praise of Son of Rambow. This is more solid proof that Garth Jennings is a director to watch, and that plenty more great movies lay ahead in his future. Son of Rambow is a fun and charming little indie flick that is well worth going out of your way to see, so track it down if you can. — Sean
Recommended If You Like: Be Kind Rewind, Rushmore, Millions