Simon Dillon reviews the film
Many years ago, when I showed my younger brothers the 50's sci-fi B-movie The Blob, it made a tremendous impact on their impressionable minds, and they promptly decided to produce their own hugely imaginative stage version. Son of Rambow (spelt "Rambow" to avoid copyright issues) has a similar premise: two boys decide to film their own version of Rambo after viewing a pirate video of First Blood (ie the original Rambo film, not the rubbish sequels). Whimsical, nostalgic and unashamedly sentimental, this will strike a chord with anyone who grew up in the 1980's.
The friendship between these two very different boys forms the core of the film. Will is from a strict Plymouth Brethren background (an ultra-legalistic Christian group who don't allow film, television or pop music). He befriends Lee, who is always in trouble at school, and the two of them form an unlikely bond as they set about producing their own version of the Sylvester Stallone classic.
Partly autobiographical in nature, the story is loosely based on childhood incidents from writer/director Garth Jennings. This is his second feature, and visually it draws heavily on his experience helming some of the sharpest pop videos of recent years (including Blur's Coffee and TV). The many slapstick gags, amusing characters and increasingly dangerous stunts are executed to hilarious effect.
Performance wise, the two leads, Bill Milner (Will) and Will Poulter (Lee), are both completely convincing. They are ably supported by the likes of Zofia Brooks, Neil Dudgeon and other TV names. The cinematography and editing are slick, with great use of animation to illustrate Will's fertile imagination. Obviously, no film of this nature would be complete without a cracking pop soundtrack, and the likes of Duran Duran, The Cure, Gary Numan and Depeche Mode are all used to good effect.
The narrative loses focus somewhat towards the end, and becomes increasingly improbable as virtually the whole school gets involved in the production. There are also some anachronisms that will be noticed by nit-pickers, since the film is set in 1982 and features at least two songs playing in the background that weren't released until later. But in spite of these flaws, the film remains a warm and engaging experience, albeit one peppered with mild swearing. Lee in particular blasphemes a great deal, but this is true to his character, especially considering his background. Speaking of backgrounds, both Lee and Will have well developed back stories involving absent parents, and although this has become a storytelling cliché, it's a cliché that's used to good dramatic effect.
On a spiritual level, the film also provides a surprisingly penetrating insight into the crushingly oppressive nature of legalistic religion, especially when inflicted on innocent children. It would be inappropriate for me to tell my bizarre life story in what is supposed to be a film review, but having experienced something similar to what Will goes through in my own early childhood, the scenes where he was excluded from certain school activities brought up painful memories that can only be understood by those who have been through such things. Thankfully, like Will, I also had an awakening similar to his experience watching First Blood when the cultish church we attended collapsed and I was suddenly allowed to do all manner of things that had previously been prohibited. Colossians chapter 1 verse 16 says "All things were created by him and for him." All things include film, television and pop music. Therefore, to say all film, television and pop music is wrong is to deny the Bible. These things are not evil in themselves, it depends whether they are used to promote good or evil. That is where legalistic denominations completely miss the point in their "everything fun is wrong" approach to life. The God I know simply isn't like that.
Above all, this is a celebration of childhood innocence; a nostalgic portrayal of the 80's how people of my age remember it. There are no discussions of Thatcherism or the Miner's strike. Instead, it's a wistful reminder of a bygone era where children were allowed to play outside, use their imaginations, and create amazing adventures for themselves. Son of Rambow is no masterpiece, but it's so entertaining it's impossible not to recommend, especially to people who remember tear-off ring-pull cans of Coke, hilarious 80's fashions and expressions like "skill".The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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