Son of Rambow

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This loosely autobiographical quasi-coming-of-age tale from Garth Jennings, half of music-video production team Hammer & Tongs and the director of the unwieldy but fitfully amusing Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy feature, is crammed tight with every kid-pic cliché you can imagine. It starts with the unlikely friendship of imaginative loner Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and village tough Lee Carter (Will Poulter), then quickly becomes one of those movies about the making of a bad movie — the titular “Son of Rambow,” which is inspired by a bootleg videotape of First Blood shot by Lee at the local cinema. While Will has been raised in a straight-laced religious sect that forbids TV and movies, Lee is almost his polar opposite – a rambunctious (though soft-hearted) bully given to petty larceny who nonetheless wields a primitive VHS camcorder in the hope of winning a filmmaking contest by leveraging the limited materials available to him.


Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind covers some of the same amateur-auteur

territory with considerably more panache and variety, as its

video-store denizens take a low-end pass at remaking everything from to

Ghostbusters to Rush Hour 2. By contrast, Son of Rambow is a little too

enamored with specificity of experience. Jennings can’t let go of the

Rambo movie that so infatuated him as a lad, and the parade of

playfully edgy 80s pop hits that begins with “Close to Me” by The Cure

and culminates somewhere this side of “Peek-a-Boo” by Siousxie and the

Banshees invests the movie with something that barely passes for period

flavor. And the current convention of representing a live-action

character’s inner life on screen through ostensibly whimsical animation

– happily, it’s sparingly deployed here — is quickly becoming a twee

cliche.

Part of the problem with Son of Rambow is that the tone

is too loose across the board, not just in the broadly slapstick

movie-making scenes that are the film’s highlight. The

film-within-a-film has a winning absurdity, but it doesn’t stand apart

from the bulk of the narrative material, which is already conceived,

with outsized flair and ambitious comic timing, as a sort of

live-action cartoon. Jennings makes lots of large brushstrokes, but

fails to pencil-and-ink in the kind of detail that would make his yarn

credible as the character study it often tries to be — even as he goes

off on an odd tangent about a French exchange student who tries but

fails to channel Patrick Swayze. Part Billy Elliot, part pint-sized

Rushmore, part Gilliam-esque boosterism on the value of imagination

amidst grim surroundings, Son of Rambow never finds its own voice, and

generally fails to live up to its reckless promise.

Still, the

film has its charms, including an entertaining young cast. Milner is

fine as a sweet kid who’s just starting to figure out how to interact

with the world outside of his house, but it’s the piercing,

sharp-eyebrowed gaze of Will Poulter that really gets a workout here,

as he plays the kind of boy who’s reached the crossroads of pulling

himself out of the muck and failing to give a shit. Both are fatherless

children, and as an endorsement of movies made in the margins, Son of

Rambo is a starry-eyed vision of a child’s relationship with pop

culture, citing questionable influences — like a violent Hollywood

action movie — that can nonetheless catalyze real expression. It argues for

indulging creative exuberance, rather than fretting about it. And it

advocates throwing yourself into something with disregard for its

quality or lack thereof, and trusting that it will prove to be of value

to some audience, somewhere – even if it turns out to be only an

audience of one. That’s not everything, but it’s worth something. C+

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