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  Son of Rambow a sweet natured nostalgia fest
Year: 2008
Director: Garth Jennings
Stars: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Hynes, Eric Sykes, Ed Westwick, Jules Sitruk, Adam Buxton
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 4 votes)
Review: It’s a long, hot summer in 1982. 10 year old Will (Bill Milner) lives a sheltered, religious life as part of the Plymouth Brethren, who shun movies and TV, but keeps a secret sketchbook full of colourful fantasies - dragons, lions, scarecrow monsters and flying dogs. His quiet life is turned inside out when he meets Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the school terror and maker of bizarre home movies. Lee exposes Will to a pirate copy of Rambo: First Blood, blowing his mind wide open to the adolescent joys of movies, music, TV and excitement, and they join forces as filmmakers and stars of their own film project: “Son of Rambow”. The pair form a lasting friendship, put to the test when other kids - led by French foreign exchange student and school idol, Didier Revol (Jules Sitruk) - want in while the Brethren start putting pressure on Will’s mum (Jessica Hynes) to give up his dream.

This sweet-natured nostalgia-fest will surely bring a smile to anyone familiar with small town life in the 1980s. Garth Jennings made his feature debut with the meandering, but likeable Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2004). Alongside Shane Meadows and Edgar Wright, he seems part of a generation of Eighties kids reliving childhood memories on the big screen. The details are charming - synth pop bubbling out of suburban homes, girls in rah-rah skirts, chunky cell phones and hairspray casualties - but where Jennings really scores is with two, outstanding, young leads. Refreshingly free of stage school mannerisms (rare in a British movie), Will Poulter and Bill Milner are believable, engaging and charismatic. An infectious sense of fun bursts forth from their DIY movie-making effort which evoke, not just the naff-ness of John Rambo, but such early eighties staples as ninja movies, cheap fantasy flicks, Patrick Swayze and gung-ho war pictures.

Will’s crayon coloured imagination points the way to filmmaking fun, pop music and hanging out in the Sixth Form common room. Scenes where he’s getting a sugar high off fizzy sweets and cola are great fun, but Jennings seems mistrustful of his own happy-go-lucky nostalgia. The film struggles through its more angst-ridden passages and rushes a few subplots, including Lee’s hero worship of his feckless older brother, and simmering passions between brethren spokesman Joshua (Ed Westwick) and Will’s mum (well-played by Spaced scribe/actress Jessica Hynes). Eric Sykes is rather wasted in a throwaway role as an elderly care home resident, unwittingly roped into Lee’s movie. He murmurs about being stuck indoors, listening to other residents crying, but the kids ignore him adding a sour note to this feel-good movie. The saga of the whole school going potty over French cool kid Didier has a poignant coda where it’s revealed he is just as much an outsider among his peers as Will. While his family’s climactic renunciation of the Brethren seems a tad unlikely, Will’s relationship with Lee reaches a likeably heart-warming conclusion. There remains a nagging suspicion this is little more than a exceptional CBBC drama, but it remains none the less beguiling for it.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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