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If you are in the mood for a story from the heart, about friendship and identity, growing up in a world foreign from your sensibilities and against what it is you want to be, despite the need to conform, Son of Rambow is just the thing. Be aware, however, that this is a British film with story at its core. There are slow moments throughout, but only in a bid to enhance the overall work. People walked out of my screening saying that they were bored—this is what happens when you get a free movie pass and go without knowing anything about what you are about to see. I had been anticipating Garth Jennings’ follow-up to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy with baited breath, ready to be taken into an original world straight from his mind. Being one part of the dynamic duo Hammer & Tongs, I knew he’d have something up his sleeve, a la Michel Gondry, by watching his inventive music videos. This film allows him to step out and put his imagination out there for all to experience. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Everything is authentic here, from the time period of the 80’s complete with soundtrack, dress, and VHS camcorders, to the homemade quality of the amateur film young Will and Lee are crafting. When the kids go behind the lens and start filming, you won’t be able to remove the smile from your face. The two act like they are best of friends and go through the good and bad times that the stigma of “blood-brothers” brings with it. Their interactions make the film succeed completely because the bond they share is strong. When two outsiders find each other amidst the carnage that is Middle School, even if they are polar opposites, it is a hard thing to break. Finally able to live life knowing there is someone else to share in the fun is a drug that won’t be kicked easily, no matter what family and school tells you. The more people that want you to separate, the more you will see that what you have together is the true reality; no one has the right to end it but you.

Just the setup of having a boy from an Amish-like upbringing in the “Brethren” mix with the class miscreant and bully is ripe for laughter and fun. From the onset we are privy to the clash of their two cultures. Lee Carter is a mischievous delinquent attempting to use Will Proudfoot as his slave and stunt man for the movie he is trying to enter into a contest inspired by First Blood. With his parents gone and only a brother who uses him as a servant, Lee needs this in order to compensate for the life he is leading. Only someone who is bullied becomes a bully himself; it is the only life he knows. Blackmailing Will into being his actor for some really crazy stunts, (complete with wonderful montage), may play to his needs, but it plays to the sheltered boy’s as well. Will finally has an excuse to let his imagination run free from the pages of his drawing books and the walls of the bathroom stall. In a culture that is not allowed to watch tv, making a movie himself can be a very strong temptation. When he shows up at Carter’s door in full Rambo garb, you know how the rest of the film will go. Lee curses under his breath because he sees he doesn’t know what he has gotten himself into. Never in a million years does he think this boy would end up being the one person on earth he could count on.

At the core of the story is the fact that these outsiders are able to find that being themselves is ok. Outcasts for their entire lives, being who they are finally makes them into those kids the others want to hang out with. The popularity gets to their heads and crazy characters come into the fold risking destroying all they have built, but it is the strength within them that will win out in the end. Their rapport with each other is crucial and Bill Milner, (Will), and Will Poulter, (Lee), hit it out of the park. I don’t know how much of it is acting or them just intuitively going where the script takes them, but it is fantastic. The fact that they are so young and able to be so natural when behind the camera, yet so self-conscious and hammy in front of it—despite being in front of the real camera every second—just blows my mind. Milner is the naïve boy raised to be weary of the outside world, always cheery and completely gullible. When he gets a taste of fame he doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Poulter, on the other hand, is the smart-mouthed kid building up a stone façade to hide what is really going on inside. His delivery of one-liners is priceless, definitely helping to make him the shining star of the movie.

I’d be remiss to not mention the wonderful supporting cast and creativity of director Jennings. His use of animation is integrated perfectly and the mix of watching what is happening along with how it filmed on the boys’ camera is well orchestrated. As for the support, a lot is going on around these burgeoning filmmakers. Between the cliques at the school and the arrival of French exchange students, the small world is ever-changing around them. Jules Sitruk as Didier is absolutely amazing, oozing exotic chic and French confidence despite what we find out about his true nature at the end. This kid is Michael Jackson here, (that is a good thing, we are in the 80’s after all), and everyone, girls and boys flock to him. The teachers and the old folks and even Lee’s brother help add to the aesthetic going on, but what truly leaves its indelible mark is the culmination of all the hard work, seeing the finished short filmed displayed. The movie encompasses all that has been going on, permanently etching the bonds that have been forged and those that have been repaired to video.

Feel good movie of the year? Quite possibly hands down.

Son of Rambow 9/10

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photography:
[1] Bill Milner stars as WILL PROUDFOOT in Garth Jennings’ and Nick Goldsmith’s SON OF RAMBOW. (c) 2008 Paramount Vantage, A PARAMOUNT PICTURES corporation. All rights reserved. Photo by Maggie Ferreira
[2] Will Poulter as “Lee Carter” stars in “Son of Rambow”, a Paramount Vantage release. © 2008 by PARAMOUNT VANTAGE, a Division of PARAMOUNT PICTURES. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Maggie Ferreira

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