STUDIO: Paramount
MSRP: $21.99
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
• Making-of documentary
• Director commentary
• Aron: Short Film


The Pitch

The best Rambo-themed DVD release of the year. 

Hellfire rained down upon the fields of Tom Sawyer’s island.
The war for Fantasyland’s independence had begun.

The Humans

Cast: Bill Willner, Will Poulter, Jessica Hynes, Jules Sitruk, Neil Dudgeon

Director: Garth Jennings

The Nutshell

Struggling with the sudden loss of his father, irrepressibly creative youngster Will Proudfoot (Bill Millner) copes by retreating into a solitary artistic world.  As a member of the Brethren, a strict, possibly misogynistic religious sect, he isn’t allowed to watch television or movies, so he spends hours drawing pictures and animations in his father’s old shed.  At school, opportunistic bully Lee (Will Poulter) forcibly enlists Will into the production of a homemade film project, upending Will’s lonely life by thrusting him into Lee’s larger world.  Becoming obsessed with movie fantasy after watching a bootleg copy of First Blood, Will works as Lee’s stuntman on Son of Rambow, their unofficial continuation of the Stallone series, leading to an unlikely bond between the wildly different boys, who plan on submitting Rambow as an entry to a nationwide competition. Parents, friends, and an eccentric French exchange student create obstacles in the lives of the two budding filmmakers as the project takes on a life of its own.

The success of Rocky Horror Picture Show group events led to several tragic
and violent spinoff attempts.

The Lowdown

It’s likely that many CHUD readers are familiar with the childhood film project as a rite of passage.  These projects are elementally creative in a way that makes them timeless, and they offer a rare chance to take creative control of a seemingly important event.  For kids whose lives are directed at even the lowest levels, these projects can be very important creative offspring.  Garth Jennings’ Son of Rambow captures the spirit of the childhood film project, weaving around it the tale of two boys’ attempts to reconcile emotional wounds through friendship and storytelling.  It tells a dramatic and often dark story while retaining a great sense of humor and fun, and merges real life and movie fantasy in ways that few films have ever done.  When Rambow ventures into Will’s fantasy world, vivid cartoon explosions, dog fighter pilots, and menacing nightmare creatures show childhood fantasy in a way that’s somehow more realistic than any anthropomorphic CGI animal.  These sequences alone make Rambow worth watching. 

After the Narragensett incident, it became clear to the DOE that self destruct
buttons were both unnecessary and dangerous.

Son of Rambow‘s comedy elements never verge into parody or spoof, and although it wrings a few laughs out of 80’s cultural references, it’s much more a thoughtful film than the title suggests.  Character beats between Will and Lee form the comedic backbone of the film, and since their interactions seem so genuine, their relationship is easily carries the movie.  Which brings me to Rambow’s biggest charms: Bill Willner and Will Poulter, who could easily form a power duo called Will Billter, are absolutely great.  From Poulter’s cocky mannerisms to Willner’s careful restraint, they’re an amazing pair of actors.  Their interactions always feel authentic.   

The rest of the cast does great work, too, including Jessica Hynes (Spaced‘s Daisy) as Will’s mother.  As she struggles between her allegiance to the Brethren and the needs of her son, her character’s evolution becomes just as meaningful as her son’s.  While most of Rambow‘s grownups exist as shadowy obstacles for Lee and Will, Hynes brings a quiet empathy to her character.  Jules Sitruk has fun as the French exchange student Didier, a self-absorbed dingbat who ignites a power struggle between the filmmakers.

Son of Rambow might be about kids, but its compelling and multi-layered story is anything but immature.  The conflicts between Lee, Will, the school, and various authority figures bounce off of each other in complex and synergistic ways.  There’s a great scene in the third act when Lee, frustrated at Will’s apparent bid for leadership of the project, “accidentally” hits the pampered starlet Didier with a branch during a late night shoot.  We watch Will, who’s already struggling with his Mother after sneaking out of the house to film the scene, yell at Lee for the attack.  Beyond the overarching goal of winning the filmmaking contest, there are sub-conflicts between power over the direction of the film, and the power each boy has over each other in their friendship.  And there’s also the actual onscreen physical conflict. Lee and Will go through Rambow’s emotional ringer, and Jennings wisely keeps wringing his characters until the final scene.

Richard Karn’s departure from Home Improvement was hastened by his
coworkers’ merciless Labradorian taunts.

Being a film about filmmaking, Rambow also delivers not-so-subtle commentary on filmmaking culture, with popular actors (Didier) and conflicts behind the camera threatening to divide the creative team.  Had Rambow‘s characters remained unchanged and the story been transplanted into modern day Hollywood, its events would have been just as believable.  If there’s anything that doesn’t work as well as it should, it’s the ending.  While rightfully earned, Rambow‘s ending may leave a sticky-sweet film in the mouths of some viewers.  Without spoiling too much, the resolution to the boys’ story may seem a little too storybook perfect, but given how battered and scarred Lee and Will become during the course of their project, it’s still easy to cheer for them. 

Well written, well acted, and very touching, Son of Rambow is a terrific film filled with memorable characters and a surprising emotional richness.  For anyone who has ever picked up a camera and enlisted a crew of friends to shoot a movie, it’s unmissable.

[For what it’s worth, my childhood film project was an Indiana Jones homage called “Death on the Peace River.”  I played Indiana Jones, and my kid brother was cast in the roles of both Sallah and “Grassface Monster”.  I used a bungee cord as a bolo.]

The Package

There are a feast of extras, including director commentary, a making-of documentary, and Aron, a short film that became the inspiration for Son of Rambow.  The film’s summer palette of greens, browns, and blues looks great in standard def, and the audio is a very acceptable Dolby 3/2.1.

The box art features Will decked out as the eponymous Son of Rambow, and does its job.

The original Commander Sheppard

9 out of 10