Rambow cute and quirky, but no cigar
by Molly Templeton
SON OF RAMBOW: Written and directed by Garth Jennings. Produced by Nick Goldsmith. Cinematography, Jess Hall. Music, Joby Talbot. Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson and Jules Sitruk. Paramount Vantage, 2008. PG-13. 96 minutes.
|Lee (Will Poulter) and Will (Bill Milner) scout film locations
Son of Rambow, the latest film from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy director Garth Jennings, is a sweet, properly quirky little thing which was an audience favorite at Sundance (the last two years’ indie sensations having proven that quirk is something of a necessity). A film about friendship, imagination and the collaborative magic of filmmaking, it follows two preteen boys who (sort of) set out to make a sequel to First Blood. Before they meet, one sits in the nonsmoking section of his theater in England, a cigarette in one hand and a video camera in the other as he pirates the film; the other is raised quietly and piously in the Brethren, a religious group that forbids things like the watching of TV.
The boys are an unlikely pair, and Rambow is at its most delightful as they become friends. The troublemaker, Lee Carter (Will Poulter), nabs the Bible in which Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), a child with a superbly active imagination, doodles incessantly. The resulting scuffle inadvertently binds the smaller, more naïve Will to Lee, who decides that this pushover should help with the film he’s making for a contest. What this film is about is unclear; what is clear is that when Will catches an accidental screening of First Blood in Lee’s garage, his entire take on life is changed. War! Adventure! Superhuman feats! Crazy stunts! All of which must be hidden from his loving but strict mother, of course.
But Will’s family’s religion is one of Son of Rambow’s flaws. It feels as if the family only belongs to the Brethren because it makes Will’s introduction to violent entertainment that much more dramatic and because it draws a very clear line between what is permissible for him and what is not. But Will never suffers much of a crisis of conscience, as it’s always clear that his imagination and artistic talent — and his sweet heart — trump the Brethren’s place in his life.
Eventually, it’s not just the filmmaking that lures Will to the dark (or not so dark) side, but the charisma of Didier (Jules Sitruck), a French exchange student who, naturally, the boys want to be and the girls want to be with. Sitruck is amusing enough, and some of his scenes — a gaggle of British schoolboy lackeys hovering two paces behind at all times — are among the funniest in the film. Yet when his story melds with Will and Lee’s, Jennings loses his grasp on the material’s heart, which is the taut friendship between Will and Lee. Didier is an unknown element, but at the point when he begins to exert another force on our budding directors, the film slips into the ridiculous. One school scene seems to involve one neverending, marker-sniffing, dance-party-having prom. (Jennings explains in production notes that this scene was influenced by Midnight Cowboy, which might partly explain why it feels so out of place.) Our French friend is an excuse for our young blood brothers to have the requisite falling out, and his character offers little beyond comic relief.
But Lee Carter has a freckled, pinched little face and a home life that is, in its way, as unusual as Will’s, and he lands solidly in the safe space between too clever and too adult. Will is a wide-eyed little moppet, initially clueless and easily influenced to a fault, but Milner convincingly shows him growing up just enough. Between these two and Jennings’ nose for perfectly executed childhood pranks — the kind that make adult bones creak and adult viewers flinch — Son of Rambow is a playful delight that just doesn’t quite come together as well as it should. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it, and think about swinging over a few rivers or tormenting a few teachers while you do
Son of Rambow opens Friday, June 6, at the Bijou.