random reviews, recollections & reminiscings

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

REEL REVIEW: Son of Rambow (2008) ****

Son of Rambow (2008) U.S. poster

rated PG-13 for violence and reckless behavior.
1 hr. 35 min.

written & directed by: Garth Jennings
produced by: Nick Goldsmith

Watching writer/director Garth Jennings new film, I couldn't help but recall the wonder and excitement I felt the first time I devoured the movies that shaped my childhood. Leaving the movie theater as a wee lad, I remember feeling as if there was no end to the movie I had just seen. It continued on in my mind, living inside me as the characters embodied my actions. I believed wholeheartedly that I could pilot a "piece of junk" through outer space with a wookie as my copilot or that I could crack a whip in search of the lost Ark. If that sounds familiar to you then this lovable film will bring you back to that time with a smile on your face and maybe even a tear in your eye.

The film takes place just outside of England in 1982, right around the time Stallone's socially-challenged Vietnam vet was introduced to cinemas. It is indeed the movie "First Blood" that brings two young boys together in an unlikely friendship. Unlikely because they are worlds apart despite living in the same town. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is an introverted loner who takes refuge in drawing up an entire book of colorful stories. He lives with his mother, younger sister and grandmother who are all part of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious sect that shuns worldliness, secular music, TV and movies. Then there's freckled Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the thieving, charismatic troublemaker at Will's school. His teachers call him "the devil child" and yes he is a hellion but right away we see that he is just as endearing as Will. He lives with his much-older brother, Lawrence (Ed Westwick), unchecked and on their own while his mother lives in Spain with their stepdad. A situation ripe with mischief.

Will Poulter and Bill Milner in Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow

Lee runs a video piracy business at home for his brother and has secretly decided to make a home movie himself. His goal: to make it the best ever and enter it into the local young filmmaker's contest. Lee finds an awe-struck ally in the imaginative Will, who is soon recruited by Lee to be his stunt double for an action movie he is making. Once Will sees his first ever movie over at Lee's place, a pirated copy of "First Blood" well, it's all over! He becomes obsessed with all things Rambo! He imagines himself as the "Son of Rambow" (stay till the end of the credits for a funny audio clip about the title) and enthusiastically immerses himself in the character...literally. We see Will jump from heights, fall from a tree and swing into a lake all for the sake of the art. Both boys develop an indelible bond as they become amateur cinematic collaborators.

But this wouldn't be the hilarious, touching and joyous film that it is if all went well for our boys. When a busload of French exchange students are dropped off at their school, pretty boy, Didier (Jules Sitruk) enters the scene. He captivates the uniformed girls and boys with his black leather, red boots and his new wave music but provides a driving wedge between the boys when he practically takes over production. Another challenge is fellow Brethren brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) outing his Will's forbidden celluloid adventures while horning his way into his family, putting Will and his family in danger of expulsion. But the most heart-wrenching of challenges is of the hurt caused by the growing egos and stubborn pride of both boys. You really want them to be the best of friends and it breaks your heart when anything opposing that occurs.

Jules Sitruk in Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow
Director Jennings ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") and his producing partner Nick Goldsmith really hit the jackpot finding these two non-actors as their leads. They really are perfectly cast and just flawless. I would imagine that Jennings has reels of edited film of these boys that didn't make the released cut. The supporting cast is excellent as well, particularly Jessica Hynes as Will's devoted mother who patiently tries to relate to his burgeoning backsliding. Little does she know that as much as her son wants to be a good son, he also wants to be the "Son of Rambow". Not only do the laugh-out-loud scenes make the film but the quieter, character moments add a sweet sincerity.

When I found out that the film is partly based on Jennings' own childhood experiences of filmmaking, it made me love the film all the more. No wonder the film has so much heart. It can be seen in the writing and visual storytelling which seem straight out of a fond reminiscing dream. His use of scribbly graphic animation is used wisely, not overdone but rather caters to Will's vivid imagination. The film is a wonderfully unpretentious reminder of the unlimited possibilities of make believe. The only possible way to not like this film is if you hated being a child and you hate children. It's been a long time since I sat in the theater and felt the same exuberance as the main characters but this film did just that for me.

Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow
The Skinny:
  • The movie was filmed in the following locations: Ashlyns School, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, UK, Ashridge Park, Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, England, UK, Rex Cinema, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, UK & Richborough Power Station, Sandwich, Kent, England, UK
  • The film was shown as part of the Premieres category at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival and was later shown at the 51st BFI London Film Festival.
  • The film is a project that Jennings and Goldsmith — collectively known as Hammer & Tongs — worked on for some years. Its development was interrupted when they were asked to make "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and it is their second major feature film. It was inspired by Jennings' own experiences as a child in the 1980s, when video equipment first became available to the public, and the film lovingly recreates the atmosphere of an English comprehensive school of the time, using a soundtrack of familiar and less familiar pop tracks from the era to good effect.
  • The film was shot primarily in the English town of Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire: featuring Ashlyns School and The Rex, a recently refurbished Art Deco cinema.
  • The film includes a vintage clip of Jan Pinkava winning the BBC Screen Test competition.
  • The minor role of Danny, an acolyte of Didier, a glamorous French exchange student, is played by Stanley Kubrick's grandson, Sam Kubrick-Finney.
  • When Will watches the pirated version of "First Blood" that Carter illegally filmed in the cinema we see the cinema-curtains open on the film's first-credit. All films screened in British cinemas at that time would legally have to start with the British Board of Film Classification's classification certificate directly before the start of the film.
  • "Son of Rambow" has received positive reviews from both critics and audiences at the Sundance Festival.
  • The film opens on May 2nd, 2008.
Director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith on the set of Paramount Vantage's Son of Rambow

Son of Rambow (2008) UK poster

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