Sunday, February 04, 2007

Son Of Rambow Review

I know this post has only just begun but let's get down to business. Literally.

The worldwide distribution rights to Son of Rambow were sold in the biggest deal brokered at Sundance this year. After a reportedly rather heated bidding war, Paramount Vantage emerged victorious, their wallets some 8 million dollars lighter. What they already know, and what I'm about to illustrate to you, is that they scored a genuine bargain. 8 million for a film this good? A film this imaginative, witty, charming, effortlessly engaging, original and thoroughly satisfying? It even takes the shine off of Fox Searchlight's 10 million down for Little Miss Sunshine. This is a Sundance fairy tale with a happy ending for all involved - particularly audiences.

Son of Rambow is set in the 1980s, at a time when video camcorders were becoming accessible to the more privileged end of the consumer market. This was the time when Francis Ford Copolla predicted the next great filmmaker would not be a film school student, as per his generation, but just 'a kid' making films 'in his garage'. It was also a time when home video viewing was eating into cinema audiences, and when video piracy was beginning to flourish. It was a time when budding filmmakers with actual wares to show were somewhat fewer and farther between than today, and wanting to be a movie maker somehow seemed more special. It was also the time when playground chatter was filled with hideous recollections of video nasties, both seen and imagined, accurately reported or lavishly embellished. This was my childhood, it may well have been yours, and
now it is the backdrop to Son of Rambow.

Here's an excerpt from the official synopsis:

We see the story through the eyes of Will, the eldest son of a fatherless Plymouth Brethren family. The Brethren regard themselves as God’s ‘chosen ones’ and their strict moral code means that Will has never been allowed to mix with the other ‘worldlies,’ listen to music or watch TV, until he finds himself caught up in the extraordinary world of Lee Carter, the school terror and maker of bizarre home movies. Carter exposes Will to a pirate copy of Rambo: First Blood and from that moment Will’s mind is blown wide open and he’s easily convinced to be the stuntman in Lee Carters’ diabolical home movie. Will’s imaginative little brain is not only given chance to flourish in the world of film making, but is also very handy when it comes to dreaming up elaborate schemes to keep his partnership with Lee Carter a secret from the Brethen community.

Will is played by Bill Milner, Lee by Will Poulter (try saying all of that three times fast) and each is free of the typical child actor's shortcomings, never cloying, never too keen to please. Milner is soulful, quietly thoughtful, strong inside while Poulter is stronger outside, sometimes raging, cocky. They seem to have been found this way and plugged in as perfect matches for the roles as written. The younger supporting cast sometimes threaten to steal the show, and occaisonally do, with any appearance by Jules Sitruk as Didier Revol - the French foreign exchange student who comes on as too cool for school - guaranteeing a true gem of comedy, always cut with the squirm factor of his hilarious New Wave fashions.

The adult cast is splendid, too, though Jessica Stevenson has certainly had showier roles in the past and Adam Godley is hardly there to be seen in his brief appearance as a leader in the Brethren. But they're all good: National treasure Eric Sykes is rooted to the spot for a handful of winning cameos, Anna Wing's final close-up simply couldn't be bettered. But best of all is the roster of school teachers - blink and you'll miss a curious cameo from Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright in the metal work lesson while Adam Buxton suffers for our amusement once more and Paul Ritter is just about the funniest thing in a very funny film. His delivery of a wonderful joke about flood planes and silt is, without a doubt, my favourite piece of acting I've seen so far this year. Ben Stein and Ray Walston's days as the most quoted of movie teachers may well be coming to an end.

As the story progresses, the Son of Rambow film-within-the film develops scene by scene from something simple, if explosive and stunt-packed, to a more floridly imagined affair. More characters are recruited, set-pieces become bigger and better, the plot's logic becomes far more fanciful, and perhaps naive, but also more truthful. Eventually, a few sharp turns in plot, cast and crew take the film somewhere very different than initially imagined. It becomes the perfect expression of Will and Lee, and an incredible record of the journey they took in making the film. All the while, it remains believably the work of the characters we see shooting it, never once becoming a vessel for Garth Jennings to show off, doodle indulgently or simply goof around. In a very real sense, Son of Rambow offers two heartfelt epics of unrestrained creativity for the price of one.

Jennings' chops as a director were never in question, but I'm sure this is the film that will make his name. He has the gusto and sincerity of his little fictional filmmakers and the perfect timing, incredible eye, good taste, sensitivity and technical integrity Will and Lee don't even notice they're missing.

The worst I can say for Son of Rambow is that some of its beats seem a little conventional, back there in the mechanics behind the constant invention exploding up front. The story is more than solid, however, and is very well structured, and there are enough pleasantly offbeat developments to keep you hopping foot-to-foot if you're trying to predict exactly where everything is going.

Son of Rambow is about a lot of things, not all of them obvious - certainly not from the standard synopsis. You'll appreciate taking the time to unravel them all for yourself.

The cast and crew screening of the film took place today, and though I was neither, I was lucky enough to be invited along. This was the first screening since the finished film was first unveiled at Sundance, and the atmosphere was suitably electric. Despite my elevated expectations and the atmosphere of eager anticipation, the film still delivered - trust me, I don't normally find this to be the case, I normally have to manage my expectations harshly to keep disappointment in check. There was one notable downside to attending this very early screening, however: I have no idea how long it will be before I can see Son of Rambow again, before I can take my friends along, before I can give it an honest-to-goodness solid-gold plug here on film ick to try and drive you all out to it on opening night, and I know I'm going to be itching all over long before that day finally comes.

...and I'm trying hard to not to even think about getting my hands on a copy of some kind of special-features laden DVD.

Of the films of 2007 I've seen so far, Son of Rambow and Hot Fuzz undoubtedly comprise my top two.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done, Brendon, you deserve kudos for championing this terrific looking film before anyone else knew what was coming. Can't wait to see the trailer.