Son of Rambow [DVD]
Director : Garth Jennings
Screenplay : Garth Jennings
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Bill Milner (Will Proudfoot), Will Poulter (Lee Carter), Jessica Stevenson (Mary Proudfoot), Jules Sitruk (Didier Revol), Neil Dudgeon (Joshua), Ed Westwick (Lawrence), Anna Wing (Grandma), Tallulah Evans (Jess Proudfoot), Emilie Chesnais (French Teacher), Paul Ritter (Geography Teacher)
At least when compared with books, movies have often been disparaged as a waste of time for kids because they don’t encourage the imagination. The argument goes something like this: Because reading requires that you produce your own images to bring the words to life, they are more intellectually and imaginatively stimulating, while movies provide the imagery for you, which invites you to become a listless, thoughtless automaton while watching. Of course, anyone who makes such an argument has likely never seen a kid who, having been thoroughly exhilarated by what he’s seen on-screen, is fervently drawing the images, writing his own spin-off from the story, or re-enacting a scene in the front yard.
The idea of movies as the spark to enflame the great depths of childhood imagination is the heart of Son of Rambow, an energetic British comedy written and directed by Garth Jennings, the former commercial director who helmed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005). Set in the early 1980s, the story involves two schoolboys, Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and Lee Carter (Will Poulter), who become best friends despite their differences. Will’s widowed mother, Mary (Jessica Stevenson), is a member of a Plymouth Brethren community, which enforces strict piety and forbids anything that might be described as “fun” (especially movies and television). Lee, on the other hand, has virtually no adult supervision in his life; his single mother lives primarily in Spain with her beau, leaving Lee in the not-so-capable hands of his self-absorbed older brother (Ed Westwick), who treats him like a hired hand.
Will and Lee first meet when they are both sent out to the hall during school for completely different reasons: Will must sit out there during geography class whenever the teacher shows a video (which is quite often) because he isn’t allowed to “watch television,” while Lee is sent out there for some undisclosed disruption he has caused (which is also quite often). Lee convinces Will that he should be the stuntman in a film he’s making with his brother’s VHS videocamera with the hopes of submitting it to a BBC film contest. When Will accidentally sees First Blood (1982) on a pirated videotape at Lee’s house, the exploits of Sylvester Stallone’s rampaging Vietnam veteran energize his already fervid imagination, which to this point has found an outlet primarily in incessant doodling in his Bible and on the walls of the school’s bathroom. Declaring himself “the Son of Rambow” (the minor misspelling of the name is testament to the unimportance of pedantic details in childhood play), Will begins taking Lee’s film in a new direction, one that involves everything from flying dogs to a villainous scarecrow, all of which are brought to life with the kind of ramshackle exuberance that outweighs the kids’ understandably meager production values.
Despite their becoming best friends, there are various obstacles in Will and Lee’s path, including Will’s constrictive religion, which is constantly being forced on him by Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), who seems to have as much interest in Will’s mother as he does in the protection of Will’s soul. More challenging is the eventual involvement of Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk), a French exchange student whose über-cool blasé demeanor and androgynous New Wave stylings immediately endear him to all the British kids who follow him around like swooning groupies. Didier is the film’s most obvious wink-wink sop to the worst of ’80s kitsch, and while his character adds an extra dimension of amusement to the film (especially during the early passages when it’s unclear what his role in the story will be), it also goes a bit too far over the top. Period films are always tempted to revel in the excesses of their time (in this case, wildly bad haircuts, Michael Jackson “Beat It” jackets, and the questionable practice of following a handful of Pop Rocks with a gulp of soda), and Son of Rambow falls victim fairly quickly, although more problematic is the heavy-handed manner in which it treats organized religion as an easy target.
Nevertheless, the film works as both a broad, clever comedy and as a genuine paean to the breadth and depth of childhood imagination. It turns the idea of young kids watching the decidedly R-rated First Blood on its head, circumventing the typical, staid arguments about the deleterious effects of media violence in favor of movies as a launching point for creativity. Although it is not explicitly underlined in the film, it is not hard to imagine Will, a lonely kid who doesn’t fit in anywhere, finding immediate identification with fellow misfit John Rambo; thus, while Will’s re-enactments of Rambo’s antics for the videocamera make him feel powerful, they are ultimately fueled by his emotional connection to the troubled character. Of course, the bluenoses can still wag their fingers because the kids are embracing a violent character and playacting said violence, and to that Son of Rambow offers no excuses and simply revels in the thrill with which Will throws off his shackles and embraces the imaginative display of his inner warrior.
|Son of Rambow DVD|
|Son of Rambow is available for sale exclusively at Best Buy stores.|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||August 26, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The anamorphic widescreen image is bright and clear, with excellent colors and good detail. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is active and lively, with immersive sound effects during the various action and dream sequences and plenty of room for the trippy ’80s soundtrack.|
|Early on in the audio commentary by director Garth Jennings, producer Nick Goldsmith, and stars Bill Milner and Will Poulter, Jennings tells us that this will not be a “highly intellectual” commentary talking about the film’s non-existent symbolism, and he’s right. Rather, it’s a laid-back and enjoyable conversation in which they reminisce about the making of the film and generally make each other laugh. They also appear in the 26-minute featurette “Boys Will Be Boys: The Making of Son of Rambow,” which includes some amusing rehearsal footage and a few interesting tidbits, like the fact that the production offices and editing suites were housed on two barges anchored in a river in London. However, the real gem in the supplements is the 11-minute short film Aron, which Jennings made as a kid in 1986. It features a Rambo-esque action hero, handwritten credits on perforated computer paper, and lots of delightfully shaky camerawork and clumsy dubbing. My only complaint is, how could Jennings not record a commentary to explain who’s on screen and his reactions while rewatching his childhood opus? That would have been priceless. Also included on the disc is a four-minute homemade short film that apparently won a contest on the Son of Rambow web site.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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