Written by: Mike Caccioppoli, Feature Film Critic
It must have been a relief for writer/director Garth Jennings to be able to make Son of Rambow after the disastrous Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While that film had all the signs of studio interference, Rambow on the other hand is a creative explosion that could only have been made by someone who had been previously oppressed by Hollywood hacks. One could argue that his new film is overly creative in that it tries to pack several narratives into what is really a very simple story but we really can’t fault him because on the whole Rambow is more original than 90 percent of what we see these days.
Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a young boy growing up in early ‘80’s rural England who isn’t allowed to watch television or listen to the radio. He is part of a Plymouth Brethren family and his religion is very strict about outside influences and modern “entertainment.” His father died when he was little and his mother has been left to run the family. Things are so strict for Will that even when his class has to watch a video, he’s forced to go out into the hallway and wait for it to end. One day while sitting in the hallway he meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter) the school bad boy who also gets sent to the hallway almost daily but for a very different reason. Lee decides that Will would be the perfect stunt man for his new film which is a “remake” of sorts of First Blood which he illegally videotaped at a local movie house. Once Will takes in a few scenes of the movie he is immediately hooked and totally gung-ho about the project.
It goes without saying that Will can’t tell his mother about his new friend or their movie especially since his uncle already feels that Will isn’t living up to the expectations of the Brethren. With their video camera Will and Lee stage several Rambo-like scenes that have Will doing incredible stunts while Lee pretty much watches and laughs. Lee even goes as far as to steal a dog statue and attach a kite to it for a “flying dog” sequence. Of course things to terribly wrong with this scene and several others but during their project the boys bond and even become “blood brothers.” Will meanwhile begins to get into more trouble as his family suspects that he’s been lying to them about his daily routine. The Brethren even threaten to throw them out of the clan if Will’s behavior doesn’t improve.
Lee also comes from a unique family that runs an old age home. His older brother is a spoiled rich kid who has Lee as his servant. It’s obvious that both Will and Lee are using their film as a way to escape from similar yet different problems at home. It’s this story of bonding and friendship that makes Son of Rambow so special. There’s a side story involving a French exchange student that attends Will’s school that provides some laughs as the English kids are totally enthralled with his avant-garde ways and will do anything to make him happy. He also wants to be part of the boys’ film even though his acting is horrific. Some will see this sub-plot as a cheesy distraction to the film but it actually compliments its irreverent nature.
Son of Rambow not only tries to pay homage to the Rambo films of our youth but also Steven Spielberg’s earlier films and as a friend of mine points out even a film like Bugsy Malone. What the film is really about however is the creative process in its purest form. Will Proudfoot has an active imagination but that imagination has been suppressed because of his religious upbringing and Lee Carter helps to bring that wild imagination to the forefront. As mentioned earlier, writer/director Jennings seems to know a thing or two about creative oppression and through his characters he’s able to finally express himself without being censored. If the Brethren represent the studio hacks then Will Proudfoot must be Jennings himself. Lee Carter is the creative rebel who rescues him and Jennings shows his thanks by making Lee an unforgettable character that many of us will most easily relate to in one way or another. Son of Rambow is undoubtedly an extremely personal film, it’s vibrant, alive, and all heart.