After a protracted rights hang-up that saw its release delayed more than a year from its Sundance 2007 bow — until after the recent Rambo sequel — the canted coming-of-age comedy Son of Rambow [sic] finally hits theaters this week. Set in small town Great Britain in the 1980s, the movie centers on floppy-armed, pint-sized pre-teen Will (Bill Milner, below right), a fatherless member of a puritanical religious sect in which recorded entertainment is strictly forbidden. When Will sees a pirated copy of First Blood, though, his imagination explodes in sugar-rush fashion. At first blackmailed by rascally ne’er-do-well Lee Carter (Will Poulter, below left) into helping him out on a stunt reel, Will convinces his new pal they should make their own action epic. When disenchanted French exchange student Didier (Jules Sitruk) catches wind and demands a part, suddenly everyone wants in on Will and Lee Carter’s film.
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the
Galaxy), Son of Rambow exudes a handcrafted feel, and is at its best
when seducing us with its
madcap, visually inventive style. Will and Lee Carter are “types,” though, and their relationship runs a bit hot-cold; I wished the movie showed more of them actually bickering and working things out. I was also really intrigued and amused by Didier, and the notion — introduced in a throwaway bit late in the movie — that he
was a bit of a poseur, which is to say alien-cool to the Brits, but a dork to all the rest of the French kids. Jennings unfortunately wastes the rich comic potential of this premise. Finally, the movie too is more than a a bit unrealistic with regards to Will’s mother’s sudden slide away from the hermetic existence which they’ve been leading; that just doesn’t pass the smell test. In fact, less is more; Son of Rambow doesn’t earn or need the tearful scene of familial reconciliation, centering around the return of a watch belonging to Will’s late father. This is a extra-familial story, about finding acceptance and brotherhood outside of conventional structures.
Still, the two lead performances here — one salty, one sweet — give this movie lift. The gangly Milner in particular is unforcedly charming, and physically sort of a live-action version of Fievel Mouskewitz, from 1986’s An American Tail. Son of Rambow has an undeniable pinch of that same comic-tinged nostalgia that makes 1983’s A Christmas Story the de rigueur holiday viewing for all the alt-cool Christian families out there. For a condensed version of this review, as originally published in CityBeat, click here. (Paramount Vantage, PG-13, 96 minutes)