Son of Rambow
This loosely autobiographical quasi-coming-of-age tale from Garth Jennings, half of music-video production team Hammer & Tongs and the director of the unwieldy but fitfully amusing Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy feature, is crammed tight with every kid-pic cliché you can imagine. It starts with the unlikely friendship of imaginative loner Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and village tough Lee Carter (Will Poulter), then quickly becomes one of those movies about the making of a bad movie -- the titular "Son of Rambow," which is inspired by a bootleg videotape of First Blood shot by Lee at the local cinema. While Will has been raised in a straight-laced religious sect that forbids TV and movies, Lee is almost his polar opposite - a rambunctious (though soft-hearted) bully given to petty larceny who nonetheless wields a primitive VHS camcorder in the hope of winning a filmmaking contest by leveraging the limited materials available to him.
Part of the problem with Son of Rambow is that the tone is too loose across the board, not just in the broadly slapstick movie-making scenes that are the film's highlight. The film-within-a-film has a winning absurdity, but it doesn't stand apart from the bulk of the narrative material, which is already conceived, with outsized flair and ambitious comic timing, as a sort of live-action cartoon. Jennings makes lots of large brushstrokes, but fails to pencil-and-ink in the kind of detail that would make his yarn credible as the character study it often tries to be -- even as he goes off on an odd tangent about a French exchange student who tries but fails to channel Patrick Swayze. Part Billy Elliot, part pint-sized Rushmore, part Gilliam-esque boosterism on the value of imagination amidst grim surroundings, Son of Rambow never finds its own voice, and generally fails to live up to its reckless promise.
Still, the film has its charms, including an entertaining young cast. Milner is fine as a sweet kid who's just starting to figure out how to interact with the world outside of his house, but it's the piercing, sharp-eyebrowed gaze of Will Poulter that really gets a workout here, as he plays the kind of boy who's reached the crossroads of pulling himself out of the muck and failing to give a shit. Both are fatherless children, and as an endorsement of movies made in the margins, Son of Rambo is a starry-eyed vision of a child's relationship with pop culture, citing questionable influences -- like a violent Hollywood action movie -- that can nonetheless catalyze real expression. It argues for indulging creative exuberance, rather than fretting about it. And it advocates throwing yourself into something with disregard for its quality or lack thereof, and trusting that it will prove to be of value to some audience, somewhere - even if it turns out to be only an audience of one. That's not everything, but it's worth something. C+ Posted by on August 25, 2008 10:00 PM