SON OF RAMBOW Written and directed by Garth Jennings, with Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk and Jessica Stevenson. A Paramount Vantage release. 96 minutes. Opens Friday (May 9). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNNN
Son of Rambow is the movie Be Kind Rewind desperately wanted to be – a joyful celebration of the ridiculous, liberating power of cinema on the human imagination. And it’s really, really funny.
Set in the early 1980s, Son Of Rambow (the misspelling is definitely intentional, and also gets around any tricky issues of trademark infringement) is an energetic comedy about two English schoolboys who become entranced by a bootleg tape of Ted Kotcheff’s First Blood and decide to produce their own sequel, in which John Rambo’s English schoolboy son sets out to save his father from an evil scarecrow.
In the classic comedy tradition, the kids making the movie are unlikely allies. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is an imaginative, withdrawn boy raised in a cloistered religious sect, while Lee Carter (Will Poulter) is a shifty latchkey kid who busies himself with small-time scams when he’s supposed to be working at the family nursing home.
When Will ends up at Lee’s place of business and stumbles across that bootleg tape, it’s a life-changing revelation. He’s never seen a movie before, or even television, and he’s overwhelmed by the experience.
Enraptured by images of Sylvester Stallone tracking and trapping Brian Dennehy’s deputies – and missing the fact that John Rambo is, y’know, kind of the bad guy in the scenario – Will starts to envision a second chapter to the story, ultimately enlisting the reluctant Lee as director and co-star.
As the production expands, it starts to pull more and more kids into its orbit, including très cool French exchange student Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk) and his entourage, a source of great amusement all by themselves. And it brings Will and Lee into conflict with the spiritual leader of Will’s community, who pressures Will’s mother (Jessica Stevenson) to remove her son from these corrupting influences.
Writer-director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith – known collectively as Hammer and Tongs in England – may be working on a more modest scale than in their previous feature, the underrated adaptation of Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. But they haven’t abandoned their visual flourishes or energetic sensibility.
Son Of Rambow is ebulliently alive in a way few recent films have managed, mixing antic comedy with genuine feeling. The closest analogue I can find is Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, with its bright colours, knowing musical cues and slightly exaggerated vision of middle school. But Jennings isn’t trying to ape Anderson’s style; it’s just a spiritual cousin, somehow. And not that it necessarily matters, but Will Proudfoot is a much more talented dramatist than Max Fischer.