Son of Rambow
Son of Rambow wants to be, as its TV ads are currently blaring, a “British Stand by Me,” but it’s a little too weird to become as classically beloved. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does take a little while to pull you in, and kids "” presumably the film’s target audience "” will be helplessly confused more often that not. A number of young boys attended the screening I went to, and none of them seemed to be quite sure when they were supposed to laugh. I’m not trying to sell kids short, because they’re more perceptive than adults give them credit for; it’s just that the film is very eccentric, very British, and too unfocused.
The basic idea: in the early ’80s, a young boy named Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) finds a friend in another boy named Lee Carter (Will Poulter), and together they stage a home-video sequel to the coolest movie they’ve ever seen: First Blood, the first Rambo movie.
It’s an odd concept in the first place, one that unsurprisingly is loosely based on writer/director Garth Jennings‘s real childhood. Jennings, who also directed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, is quite perceptive about the way kids treat each other, although he could’ve benefited from a co-screenwriter to bounce some of his ideas off of and to give the screenplay a better shape. It noticeably drags in some areas.
Will and Lee Carter (in too-cute-British-kid fashion, Will always calls him by his full name) are at polar ends of the same line. They’re both outcasts at their school: Will because his family is part of a fundamentalist Christian sect called the Brethren which forbids television, music, and presumably breathing, and Lee Carter because he’s a wild troublemaker hated by teachers and students alike. Will lives with his younger sister, widowed mom, and grandmother in a tiny cottage; Lee Carter lives with his older brother (Gossip Girl‘s Ed Westwick) in an empty mansion, a product of rich but perpetually M.I.A. parents.
These details make for smart, sharp portrayals of troubled kids with bad home lives (although the whole Brethren thing is overkill), and the film is best at dealing with the kids’ relationships "” how strong their friendships can become and also how casually cruel they can be. There’s an out-of-left-field subplot about some visiting exchange students from France; one of them, an eccentric named Didier, immediately becomes idolized by all the British kids, and there’s an ingenious twist at the end of his storyline that you could practically write a sociology paper on.
The film marches on with frequent detours and stumbles, but once you get to know these kids its hard not to start caring, truly caring, about their fates. The two main child actors are completely inexperienced, but giving these roles more
polish would’ve been a bad idea. By the end, when we actually do see the boys’ finished film in its entirety, you’ll be grinning in spite of yourself. But it’s not a classic.
Movie Grade: B-