May 21, 2008

Son of Rambow

Let's go get some evildoers!

Grade: B
Director: Garth Jennings
Starring: Will Poulter, Bill Milner, Jules Sitruck, Charlie Thrift, and Jessica Stevenson
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

The happiest revelation in the British import Son of Rambow is that there is a lot more going on beyond its banal title and wispy premise. Brought to you by the filmmaking team of Hammer & Tongs (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and whether that’s good or bad news is a matter of taste), a grade school odd couple embarks on a mission to film the titular, ultra-amateur sequel to First Blood.

Will (Bill Milner) is a cherub-faced, fatherless moppet whose mother belongs to an ascetic religious sect that stifles Will’s nascent creativity, epitomized by the colored doodles scribbled in the margins of his Bible. Meanwhile, Lee (Will Poulter) is a chain-smoking, parentless miscreant being raised by his detached yet domineering older brother and earning his keep making and selling bootleg movies out of his garage.

The nebbish Will is seen as an easy mark for Lee’s renowned delinquency. However, desperate for friendship and perhaps suffering from a bout of Stockholm Syndrome, Will converts the lemon of Lee’s bullying into the lemonade of attention and (albeit conscripted) companionship. Taken aback by Will’s uncommon response, Lee reciprocates camaraderie toward the first person in a long time who actually wants to hang out with him by making him his figurative and literal blood brother. Will’s fortuitous exposure to a pirated VHS copy of First Blood unleashes his inner auteur, and soon he is lying to his mom and skipping prayer sessions so he and Lee can shoot their homespun Rambo redux.

Writer-director Garth Jennings packages a satisfying coming-of-age story with acute insights on the joys of childhood discovery, the struggle to realize one’s artistic vision, and both the perils and artificiality of celebrity. The foremost illustration of the latter point is Didier (Jules Sitruk), a French exchange student oozing an ubër-hip mystique that alters the school’s entire cultural landscape but whose potency ultimately proves merely a matter of perspective.

Some of Jennings’ visual preferences are suspect, especially several animated sequences that are too sloppy and far removed from the essentially harsh reality on display. And, he owes more of a debt of influence to Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry than to any Sly Stallone actioner. However, the two young, brilliant leads, nimble integration of 1980s’ Euro pop-culture fads and musical touchstones (Duran Duran, The Cure, and Depeche Mode figure prominently), and just enough biting wit to give the film some teeth enhance a lovely fable that is alternatively amusing, saddening, affecting, and inspiring.

Neil Morris

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