5/12/2008

Son of Rambow

Director: Garth Jennings

Something tells me writer/director Garth Jennings won’t be asked to film an anti-piracy DVD public service announcement anytime soon.

Set in the early 1980’s, Jennings begins his whimsical ode to childhood daydreams and the magic of movies with a seemingly insignificant event as Sylvester’s Stallone’s violent classic Rambo: First Blood is released in the film’s sleepy English community movie theatre. While outside the theatre, religious protestors rail against the sinfulness of cinema, inside the grand building, middle school aged Lee Carter (Will Poulter) slumps down in his oversized red seat. Armed with his older brother’s video camera, the nonplussed Lee relaxes with a cigarette as he records the movie’s bloodbath blow-by-blow, apparently bored by both his act of piracy as well as the film’s body count. Shortly thereafter, the worlds of both the purported film-going sinners and the bible-thumping saints collide amusingly as troublemaking Lee gets kicked out of his class and meets up with the only other student relegated to the hallway, young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), booted from the room due to movies instead of misdeeds as his religion prevents him from watching even educational television.

After a mutual accident gets them in trouble, they bond quickly with Lee’s rebellion and escalating lies and Will learns how life is lived outside of his family’s religious order of "The Brethren," when he accompanies Lee after school to find him living largely unsupervised in the back part of the family’s retirement home business with absentee parents who spend most of their time abroad. When Lee’s bossy, self-obsessed older brother (Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick) orders Lee to finish his work pirating Rambo, Will gets his first taste of film which hits him like a shot of adrenaline straight to his heart as the young, artistically inclined, daydreaming boy begins seeing the world around him as an extension of Rambo’s, finding adventure around every corner.

Combining Will’s new thirst for violent excitement with Lee’s goal to win a young filmmaker’s competition sponsored by the BBC, the two boys set out to make their own sequel. While working on the project they title Son of Rambow because of a na├»ve misspelling, Lee and Will’s friendship is tested by both their duties to their family as well as their newfound popularity, when the two outsiders garner the attention of the impossibly cool, 80’s New Wave inspired French exchange student Didier (Jule Sitruk). Informing Will that he will deign to be the star of their film, Didier along with his adoring entourage of hangers-on and groupies pull rank and drive a wedge between the boys over the course of a long summer.

Now available in wide theatrical release, the former crowd favorite at the Sundance Film Festival before its Arizona premiere at The Phoenix Film Festival has garnered comparisons to everything from Wes Anderson’s thematically similar Rushmore to the 80’s hits of John Hughes due to its lackluster production values. However, it’s a positive and refreshing change of pace to the overwhelming summer “event” movies and one with a touch of E.T. styled childlike wonder and winning, heartfelt humor which surrounds its underdog leads.

Above all, the film is sure to strike a chord with those of us who, much like Lee and Will, recall their outsider status as young movie lovers in schools where coolness was currency and gossip-- not theatre tickets-- granted us admission to the popular cliques. While we may have sat on the sidelines with our heads filled with imaginative wonder, Son of Rambow celebrates the creativity of the childhood film lover who, much like this reviewer, still cherishes the optimistic daydreams of a youth filled with as many adventures and hopes as the ones that populated our local movie screens.