May 10, 2008

REVIEW: Son of Rambow (B+)

Background: Though it was an audience favorite at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival well over a year ago, Son of Rambow didn't appear on my radar until Craig Kennedy at Living in Cinema started buzzing about it a few months ago. Apparently the film's use of actual scenes from the first Rambo film, First Blood, caused some legal issues that delayed its release. Son of Rambow is the writing debut of director Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and stars first-time actors Bill Milner and Will Poulter. Find Craig's report from a roundtable interview with the filmmakers ("Hammer & Tongs" = Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith) here.

Synopsis : It's the early 80's in rural England, and First Blood is the violent new movie all the cool kids are seeing. Young Will Proudfoot (Milner) is not one of the cool kids - in fact he's standing outside the movie theater, reading aloud from the Bible with his religious brethren. Will is the type of kid who calls other kids by their full names, and, under the same roof as his mother, grandmother, and little sister, he lives a sheltered life devoid of television, music and other potentially immoral influences. We know from Will's imaginative drawings, however, that his life is anything but boring. When he suddenly finds himself in the company of Lee Carter (Poulter), the local "Dennis the Menace" who introduces Will to First Blood, Will's fantasies become playfully violent and, in fact, playfully real. Lee is an amateur filmmaker and he's indentured Will as his stuntman, a task Will takes with the utmost sincerity, even to the point of optioning his drawings as the storyboards for the film, now known as "Son of Rambow." The unlikely friends grow close while making the film, but Will struggles with the disapproval of his behavior from his mother and the religious community. The circumstances become even more complicated when the rest of the kids at Will and Lee's school want to become involved with the film, including an uber-hip French foreign exchange student. Tensions rise as the production gets away from Will and especially Lee's original vision, and the two friends have it out with each other more than once. Meanwhile, Will's mother is facing condemnation and potential expulsion from the religious community, much to Will's quiet delight. These numerous plot threads culminate in a terrible accident that temporarily shuts down the production of the film. Just when you think all hope is gone, you remember this is a movie, and movies don't end like that. Our first and only viewing of the boys' "Son of Rambow" is a touching finale.

I Loved:
+ The great pair of Bill Milner and Will Poulter, both of whom seem familiar from other movies. I'm sure we'll get to know them well if they continue acting.
+ When the flying dog resurfaced in the teacher's lounge.

I Liked:
+ That there was no love interest forced into the story. Boys really are boys at that age, and it's natural to assume they would be more interested in guns than girls.
+ Seeing the final cut of the film.

I Disliked:
- Being unable to hear all of the dialogue due to the actors' mumbling and muttering. Their accents didn't help the situation.

I Hated:
- That the songs from the trailer ("Over and Done With" by The Proclaimers and "Rebel, Rebel" by David Bowie) weren't actually in the film. I had a feeling that would be the case and I was disappointed to be proven right.

Writing - 7
Acting - 10
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Significance - 5

Total: 44/50= 88% = B+

Last Word: While it unfortunately doesn't elicit the number of laughs that you might expect from the trailer, Son of Rambow is charming and whimsical enough to make it worth your while. Bill Milner and Will Poulter are phenomenal in their acting debuts, though Garth Jennings' script unfortunately doesn't match up to his direction of the production. The first hour or so showed great potential, but the development of multiple stories (the friendship, the brethren, the film contest, the brother, the other students) proves too much, and in fact makes this film a lot more serious than it should have been. A coming-of-age film about staying true to yourself and staying loyal to your friends doesn't necessarily need such dramatic effect, and the funniest parts of Son of Rambow are unfortunately shrouded in my mind by accidents and arguments. Nevertheless, the film's underlying celebration of childhood and the joy of filmmaking (and film watching) is something we probably don't see enough of these days. Seriously - give me less Rambo, more Son of Rambow.


  1. On balance, the things I liked far outweighed the things I didn't, but like you I was left with the feeling that it could've been better

    The trailer really is pretty misleading. It emphasized the humor when really the movie is more serious than all that.

    Still, it's heart was in the right place and I liked it.

    (Thanks for the plug btw :)

  2. "the film's underlying celebration of childhood and the joy of filmmaking (and film watching) is something we probably don't see enough of these days."

    Agreed. I love the final movie theater scene with the two boys. It reminded me of what moved about *Matinee*, *The Long Day Closes*, and *Goodbye Dragon Inn*.

    Good write-up!

  3. I have not even seen the trailer, so all I am going on is a few reviews {including yours}.

    So far I am incredibly interested in the film.

  4. Right, Craig. It was definitely worth the "effort" you put into it, and you never promised it would be a classic for the ages. I wish more filmmakers put as much thought into a new story as Garth Jennings has here.

    Thanks for stopping by, Fox. Yes, that last scene certainly tied everything together really nicely. I vaguely remember the first of the three you mention, but generally any film that celebrates film is going to be good. Except Last Action Hero, which incidentally came out the same year as Matinee.

    Ah, a blackout, Nick!? More power to you! If Craig's posts and my review are keeping you interested, I bet you'll find a lot to like about it.


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