There’s a lot to be said for a film that has the catchphrase “Make Believe. Not War.” on the jacket of the DVD, and even more to be said when the film is called, "Son of Rambow". Admittedly, I was looking forward to this film out of pure curiosity. I wondered what could possibly drive a film that focuses on a young boy wanting to be none other than the son of Rambo. Turns out, a great deal fuels this film.
"Son of Rambow" is a film about many things, and to classify it as one type of film would be an injustice to the many layers that support this wonderful, magical little film. It is a story of friendship, a story of belief, a story of second chances, a story of firsts and of growing up. Son of Rambow is a well rounded film that puts more mainstream films to shame. Its well developed characters, imaginative presentation and overall ability to tell a story is something rare today. Garth Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) wrote and directed, Son of Rambow and did a superb job creating believable characters and bringing the imagination to life.
Set in the 80’s, "Son of Rambow" doesn’t miss a beat from the moment it begins to the second it ends. At only 95 minutes, you feel you’ve seen a complete story without any filler to take away from the focus of the film. The focus of the film being, Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) and Lee Carter (a brilliant, Will Poulter) two boys with nothing in common but the need for each other. There’s Will who belongs to a Brethren Community that hinders him from branching out and sharing his creativity with others. He keeps to himself in the backyard shed and draws in books, creating vivid, somewhat destructive images. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Lee. Lee films bootleg copies of Rambo: First Blood because it’s his dream to make his own film to enter into the Young Filmmakers Award. He lives in the back of a nursing home with his older brother while his parents are constantly away.
The boys meet after being sent to the hall (for very different reasons) and before long the two are a part of each other’s life. Lee needs Will to help him by being the stuntman in his film and Will needs someone to show him how to loosen up and have fun. What’s interesting is how Will is instantly drawn to Lee. It’s a part of the story that helps further define Will’s character without stating the obvious: Will is tired of his confined life and longs to escape it.
Will get his first taste for film as he watches part of First Blood at Lee’s. Once Will watches pieces of First Blood, he is changed for good and it shows. He runs through the fields pretending to shoot make believe guns. He stops to stab a scarecrow when the real magic of Will’s imagination comes to life. The scarecrow reaches out to attack him and suddenly, he is the “son of Rambow” looking for his dad. Will is in his own world of darkened skies, drawings of trees, and muscles that talk. It’s a true vision. While any form of animation could have been used, Jennings wisely chose to have the animation (including some drawings of Will’s surroundings) look like his childhood drawings. It is this touch that adds a wonderful element of magic.
The story really takes off when the boys start making the film, "Son of Rambow" (an idea straight from Will’s vivid imagination). Instantly, Will is hooked and destined to be Lee’s stuntman. He sleds down a steep hill, flies off a ladder, falls from a tree with an umbrella as his only support. There is one scene in particular that truly defines the boy’s relationship with each other. It is a scene by the water after one of Will’s stunts go awry. Here is a scene that could have been overly sentimental or unrealistic between children, but Jennings truly manages to deliver a real moment between to unlikely friends. And credit must be paid to Milner and Poulter who are extremely believable as two young children from different worlds who become best friends.
There are several characters that tie in beautifully to the overall development of Will and Lee’s friendship and add depth to the story. They include: a French exchange student named Didier (Jules Sitruk) who seems to mesmerize the entire student body, Will’s timid mother Mary (Jessica Hynes, Shaun of the Dead), Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) who is constantly reminding Mary to keep control of Will who seems to be slipping from the Brethren, and Lee’s brother Lucas (Peter Robinson) who is completely oblivious to Lee’s need for his approval and friendship.
While everything seems to be going well enough, the boys run into some trouble while making their film on the school’s property. Lee is expelled and Will is left with the camera. Before long, Didier hears about the film and wants to be a part of the production. Once Didier is on board, the entire school wants a part, much to Lee’s disappointment. Before they know it, thanks to Didier’s popularity, they are receiving respect they’d never received and getting into places they’d never been invited to (like a room where the worst things that take place are mixing pop rocks with soda and stick on tattoos). While Will eagerly flocks to the chance to impress Didier, Lee’s sole focus is to make the film and win the award.
The filmmaking takes a turn for the worse when everyone begins taking control of the production. From this moment on, Jennings slowly tears down the friendship between Lee and Will, as well as Mary’s guarded position, Lucas’ distance, and finally Didier’s true self. Once everyone this occurs, the story quietly begins to mend wrongs. While it sounds like the film is just another story of two boys facing some tough adults and even tougher youth’s, the truth is, Jennings created a film that is unlike any other. It manages to honestly portray two boys who are brought together by need, by adventure, by imagination and by the simplicity of being a kid. Jennings managed to give a quickly paced, moving film. I’d watch it again and feel just as much the second time.
VIDEO: "Son of Rambow" is presented by Paramount Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is an above-average transfer, whose positives include consistently solid sharpness and detail. The picture appeared not only consistently crisp and well-defined, but smaller details (hairs, etc.) were presented with above-average clarity during some scenes.
Some minor edge enhancement didn't get in the way too much, and no pixelation or print flaws were spotted. The film's bright color palette seemed spot-on, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is largely dialogue-driven, with occasional light surround use for effects and ambience. Audio quality is fine, with crisp dialogue and score.
EXTRAS: Commentary with Director, Producer and Cast Members
In this commentary, Director Garth Jennings, Producer Nick Goldsmith, and Cast Members Bill Milner and Will Poulter discuss what it was like making "Son of Rambow". Immediately you’re drawn into the commentary when Jennings eagerly confesses, “This isn’t going to be one of those highly intellectual commentaries, is it really? We’re not going to be telling you about symbolism or anything like that. Probably because there isn’t any.” Let’s face it, it’s honesty like that that makes "Son of Rambow" so refreshing. Off the bat there are a few interesting facts like getting Sylvester Stallone’s blessing for the film and how he loves it. There are instantly some laughs as they talk about how the first few days of filming included smoking and shoplifting. Not to mention Jennings admitting that there was originally going to be an adult voice over from Will’s point of view that he cut because it was so boring. There’s also an interesting reference/homage to "Singin' in the Rain". The commentary is definitely worth listening to. The are few lags and it feels as if you’re sitting in an a conversation between old friends catching up on old times.
"Boys Will Be Boys: The making of Son of Rambow"
There are some fun behind the scenes look at Director, Garth Jennings and Producer Nick Goldsmith hanging out on set, instructing the young actors, running around and having a seemingly good time. We also see some early auditions and practice fight scenes. One fun thing we learn is that the production company took over a barge as their office instead of an actual office building. It sort of adds to the childhood whimsy of the film. On the barge you get to see where they edit the film, create special effects and sound. You also get to find out more about how Will Poulter and Bill Milner got their parts (up to five months to find them). A funny tidbit being that Milner wasn’t overly friendly like some of the other child actors they auditioned. “Boys Will Be Boys” is a wonderful behind the scenes look at the making of Son of Rambow. At around 26 minutes, you discover some interesting tidbits, see some new footage, and hear some favorite moments. Jennings seems to have a wonderful relationship with the young cast members and their comfort really comes across in the film.
“Aron”- Garth Jennings original short film that inspired "Son of Rambow"
The fascinating thing about watching “Aron” is how clearly Jennings took from his childhood film and made Son of Rambow. These boys could have been Will and Lee. The setting, the time period, everything seems so brilliantly familiar. I’m so glad Jennings decided to include “Aron” with Son of Rambow because it’s such an insight to the creative process, not to mention a fun piece of memorabilia that adds to the film. I know I keep talking about the essence of childhood that you sense from Son of Rambow, but “Aron” is a fine example of that essence. It’s kids doing what they do best, playing make believe.
Also included in the Special Features
"Son of Rambow" Website Winner. The winning short film is a fun little film that, again, pays tribute to the beauty of childhood filmmaking and creativity.
There are also previews of: Shine A Light, Drillbit Taylor, American Teen, The Duchess, and The Love Guru.
Final Thoughts: "Son of Rambow" is a sweet, entertaining little film with fine performances and a solid script. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality, as well as a nice set of supplemental features. Recommended.
The Film B+