An assured and charming sophomore showcase from director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith — the team which helmed 2005’s “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” — “Son of Rambow” is the winsome tale of two unlikely, young English lads creating their own videotaped version of “Rambo: First Blood.” Credited as “a Hammer + Tongs film,” the movie is delivered with a far more deft touch than the filmmaker’s nom de plume suggests.
Set in England during an undetermined year in the 1980s, “Son of Rambow” is shot with resounding confidence, consistently providing lovely visuals, immaculate framing and a magical tone. Infused with songs of the era, the soundtrack is bolstered by the beguiling original music from composer Joby Talbot, equal parts jaunty, intense and evocative. “Son of Rambow” seems less an homage to Stallone’s cable classic than a paean to unbridled enthusiasm for filmmaking; it’s as though a burgeoning Spielberg grew up in Essex and was handed a FilmFour budget.
The story presents a taciturn pre-teen, Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), who cherishes a notebook of imaginative illustrations. Milner suggests the innocence of the young Lukas Haas in “Witness.” His father has recently passed prematurely and Mary, his concerned mother, aptly played by Jessica Hynes, has sought succor in her life-long faith. After a school incident, he meets chav-in-training Lee Carter, (Will Poulter), who has a face like a bruised orange and a penchant for juvenile delinquency. A reference to Steve McQueen’s baseball scenes in “The Great Escape” only enhances his anti-authoritarian streak, a mode of behavior perhaps a consequence of far afield parents. While possessing disparate temperaments, the duo quickly bond. Enthralled to find a visceral outlet for his artistic impulses, Will is the perfect companion to help Lee complete his nascent movie being filmed on a camera gained by questionable means.
A wonderful comic presence and a rival for Will’s attention is provided by the introduction of slinky French exchange student, Didier (Jules Sitruk), whose androgynous curls, skinny jeans and pointed red boots have him resembling an honor roll candidate at an Andre Symone summer camp.
However, while the film is consistently amusing – with visual gags abounding — the story is still tinged with the realistic perils of pubescence. A flashback told to Will by his mother about a sacrifice forced upon her as a young girl is moving and meaningful. The flashback packs a punch with only a few well-crafted images. To suggest that the scene illustrates the filmmakers’ background as video directors is no slur. There’s an economy of visuals which evokes genuine emotion. It’s a deftly designed vignette and also reminds you that the film could have presented Hynes — best known by her maiden name Jessica Stevenson for roles in the classic television comedies “The Royle Family” and “Spaced” — with a more substantive role.
And this may be a regret which can be translated to the entire movie. The film at times feels as though it’s skimming instead of delving. Yet this is more a mere trifle than a complaint. “Son of Rambow” avoids twee sentiment. And the denouement which in lesser hands would have oozed with hokiness is heartfelt and understated.
“Skills on toast,” Lee exclaims after a particularly pleasing shot, and Hammer + Tongs have spread skills all over this film. Much like Michel Gondry‘s “Be Kind Rewind” earlier this year, “Son of Rambow” finds earnestness and sincerity in a film re-creation plot pining for mockery. And, as with Gondry, one looks forward to the next venture from an abundantly talented and original voice.