Son of Rambow
There is a certain magic to childhood that most of us lose as we become adults. I once came across a comment about Albert Einstein. It forwarded the idea that his genius was due to a combination of an adult intellect with the boundless imagination of a child. In the fifties when I was growing up there were no electronic gadgets to keep us occupied; no complex toys to play with. We would go out to the backyard or an empty lot and make our own fun. A sheet and some boxes would become a fort or a space ship. A stick could be a rife, spear or magic staff. We didn’t have cell phones or even walkie-talkies; we put a string between two tin cans. As it is with most adults I haven’t thought about those carefree days for decades; that is until I watched the film ‘Son of Rambow’. This movie brought me right back to those seemingly endless days of summer when all you needed was a best friend and the world around you. It also taps into another childhood memory for many of us. Now if a film is popular and has a lot of action in it there is sure to be a video game made based on it. Back then we sent out into the sunshine and acted out our favorite scenes over and over. This film is set in the early eighties so there are some conceptual changes from our memories of the fifties that were required. For one the boys in the film are trying to make their own sequel to the film ‘Rambo: First Blood’. We obviously didn’t have such equipment available to us back in the day. Now this movie is rated PG-13 so some parental discretion should be applied. It has some scenes with a form of violence that is too much for the younger members of the family. Overall it is a very good film. It is the kind of movie that a father and son can watch together and talk afterwards.
This film was written and directed by Garth Jennings. This is his first screen play but as a director he did helm ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005)’ and ‘The Best of R.E.M.: In View 1988-2003’. His love of music also extended to his writing the closing number for ‘Guide’. Here Jennings tries to create a different kind of family movie and to a large extent succeeds. This is at its heart a buddy flick. Two boys with a whole summer ahead of them keep busy with what ever is available. He treads the line that all directors and writers of this combined genre must but he doesn’t seem to feel the pressure to be overt in either one. The humor is gentle without the belly laughs. The drama is from the perspective of pair of ten year old boys. There are few moments that an adult would consider dramatic or humorous. What happens is the movie is so well constructed that we forget for the brief running time that we are adults. For that small period we are back when the world was something to play in not be concerned about. With so many film makers trying to push things and go to extremes it is reassuring that there is at least one that knows how to apply a gentle touch to his work. Jennings seems to be capable of shucking off the adult mantle and return to his youth. This is a rare quality and one we all yearn for every so often.
The directorial style that Jennings uses here is a bit heavy handed. It tries to force the images on the audience. Even this fits in the context of the film. When watching a movie like this it is extremely important to consider the source of the narrative. It is through the eyes of a pair of young boys and should be more overt in its style. This is how boys that age think; everything is life is bigger and more intense and the film reflects this very well. There is a scene where one of the boys has to sit in a chair. To him it appears to be for an eternity but in reality only thirty minutes have gone by. As adults we tend to forget moments like this but we all have gone through them. Jennings is a film maker who strives to be true to his subjects. This reminded me of another film far apart form this one; ‘Purgatory House’ by a brilliant director Cindy Baer. She did so well capturing the thoughts and attitudes of a messed up fourteen year old girl that many thought her film was amateurish. The same thing applies here. Jennings gets into the boys so well it may not come off right for an adult audience. So just sit back and allow that inner child a little play time outside.
The film is set is set in Britain during the early eighties. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is from a very conservative religious family. As the film opens he is with his parents and other congregants outside the local cinema reading from the Bible. Behind him ‘First Blood’ is playing. He is not allowed to watch television, music and dancing. Since this includes educational films he is sent to the office to wait one out. There he meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter) who is in the office for his usual high jinx and acting out. Lee’s first reaction to the other boy is to lob a tennis ball as hard as possible at him. This is the beginning of a best friendship. Now the ladies out there may not understand this part but when you’re a boy of that age friendships tend to start under the most unlikely of circumstances. Lee is a bit of a tough kid. He makes extra money by sitting in the local theater, smoking, while he records the movie on tape. He then takes this back home and makes bootleg copies which he sells in town. As usually for any buddy flick the two could not be more dissimilar. Will is a gentle boy whose vivid imagination finds little outlet in his strict religious life. He draws colorful scenes on his notebooks and makes little flip book animation on their corners. He also feeds the mice living in their barn. Lee finds joy in knocking a man off a ladder by throwing a ball at him. As the boys become friends they decide to make a sequel to ‘First Blood’ for a school video project. This is contrasted with problems in Will’s home. An elder in their religion, Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) is always around sniffing at his mother, Mary (Jessica Stevenson); Will’s father is not around. The boy’s production takes an unexpected turn when a bus full of French students comes to town. One of the girls, Didier (Jules Sitruk), becomes the object of a crush by both boys and soon takes over the film.
Paramount releases this film to DVD and as always does a get job of it. The anamorphic 2.35: video is excellent with bright realistic colors. The Dolby 5.1 audio provides a full sound stage that makes use of all the speakers perfectly. There are also some extras along for the ride. There is a commentary track with Jennings and various cast members. ‘Aron’, the original short story by Jennings is included. There is also a making of featurette. This is a gentle little tale that is sure to delight the family. Right now this is only available for sale at Best Buy and rental at most major locations.