Son of Rambow
Review by Jack Foley
YOU’VE got to hand it to Garth Jennings for persevering with Son Of Rambow, a deeply personal labour-of-love that emerges as one of the feel-good British treats of the year.
Having been inspired to make movies by watching First Blood way back in 1982 as a child, the writer-director has subsequently made full use of those cherished memories to deliver a film that’s fun yet deeply touching to boot.
And he had to be patient, opting to direct summer blockbuster The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy before returning to this more intimate project and adopting an almost commando-style approach to getting it made.
Set in the summer of 1982, the film follows the friendship that develops between shy 10-year-old Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and school outcast Lee Carter (Will Poulter) after they have connected over their love for the original First Blood movie.
For the imaginative Will, Stallone’s Vietnam vet opens up a world that he never knew existed (and that was forbidden thanks to his membership of the ultra-religious Plymouth Brethren), while for the rebellious Lee it offers the possibility of triumphing in TV’s Screen Test amateur filmmaking competition.
Together, they set about making their own sequel with the help of various school colleagues and a mysterious French exchange student, only to find loyalties and priorities being put to the test as they near the competition date.
Son of Rambow succeeds on many levels: as a spot-on coming-of-age tale that celebrates the innocence of youth, as a loving homage to a rare Stallone career highlight, and as a sweet celebration of the human spirit infused with some cheeky ’80s nostalgia. It’s the uplifting opposite to Shane Meadows’ gritty angst; a shamelessly enjoyable crowd-pleaser that’s capable of appealing to viewers of every age.
For sure, there are things wrong with it, including some over-indulgences that threaten to drag it off course during its flabby middle section (when a few too many supporting characters jostle for central position).
But thanks to the game charisma of its brilliant young leads – who are sweet and/or plucky without ever seeming obnoxious – the film consistently finds ways to keep surprising, whether it’s in their imaginative use of a hand-held camera or the growing bond that develops between them.
Milner exudes innocence and charm as Will Proudfoot and genuinely embraces his Rambo alter-ego once given the opportunity, while Poulter is a lovably cheeky rogue whose flip attitude and plucky determination belie a somewhat insecure young boy. And there’s strong, too, from the likes of Jules Sitruk (as the chic French exchange student, Didier), Jessica Hynes (as Will’s supportive mum) and even the veteran Eric Sykes (as the kids’ makeshift Rambo)!
Jennings, for his part, ensures that the Rambo homages are spot-on and drops in some tantalising glimpses of the original movie, as well as some sly ’80s references and soundtrack choices without overdoing the cheese. And he also strikes a near-perfect balance between the fantasy elements and the reality, juxtaposing some of the hardships of growing up with a knockabout sensibility more reminiscent of the Looney Tunes movies (especially in Will’s near indestructible ability to see through any stunt).
It means that come the film’s hard-earned feel-good finish viewers won’t mind giving over to the sentiment on display. Rather, they’ll be glowing as warmly as the central characters at the enormity of the achievements on show. Hell, even Stallone himself approves – and you can’t get a better endorsement than that!
Running time: 95mins
UK DVD Release: August 11, 2008