Director Garth Jennings draws second blood
Director tugs on the heartstrings with his ‘lo-fi’ sophomore film
After the disappointing adaptation of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one wouldn’t expect much out of British director Garth Jennings. The misfire was too clinical, unfunny and without heart. What is really unexpected is that he’d follow up that lumbering mess with a little comedy that looks like it was put together with twigs, strings and video tape, but still offers a heart that multimillion-dollar production values can’t buy. Or, generally, can’t even rent.
Set at the double-whammy dawn of the home video and new wave as they settle in on early ‘80s England, Son of Rambow (the “W” was added for legal reasons) is ostensibly a small film about small boys with big dreams, and a bigger thirst to realize them.
Young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is one of those odd little birds who sits in the back of the classroom, invisible save for the times that someone on the schoolyard needs a good pounding. It doesn’t help matters much that his mother belongs to a religious sect that eschews technology.
Will is introduced the hard way to hellion Lee Carter (Will Poulter). After differences are put aside, the two find that one’s dreams and the other’s tech savvy create a perfect match: Video pirate Lee is cobbling together his own fanfiction take on Rambo to enter into a BBC competition for young camcorder auteurs, and Will is drawn into the production after being exposed to a bootleg dupe of Stallone’s First Blood, a liberating experience that borders on religious epiphany.
Soon the two are risking life and limb as they set about the project. But throw a third wheel on the vehicle with the introduction of a wildly popular French foreign-exchange student, and Will and Lee find that the center does not hold. Meanwhile, Will’s mom is getting grief from her sect about the boy’s apparent straying off of message.
As the film follows the two boys’ adventures, it operates as meta-filmmaking. Seemingly shot on a nothing budget with a single cam, it carries the threadbare air of a project funded mostly on dreams. As such, in ways it evokes aspects of Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep, with oddball divergences into incongruous animated sequences. But Son of Rambow delivers with a more accessible approach.
The film isn’t perfect; the narrative is slight and, even then, solidly predictable. But it is oddly compelling as it carries with it a certain autobiographical air and a fond nostalgia for the time and place that is heartfelt, charming and more than a little melancholic.