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Son of Rambow

April 9, 2008
Son of Rambow is a joyous yet also deeply irritating romp. Like galumphing around in wellies being daft with your mates, until you realise there’s a hole in the toe and you’re going to start feeling claggy and uncomfortable soon after, it bathes you in a warm feeling of joi de vivre and then clogs you up with muddy nonsense to impinge on and colour all the fun.

It begins with ten-year-old school outcast, Will, a happy but steadily becoming self-aware member of the Plymouth Brethren, preaching nervously outside his local cinema, watched by his family and church members. Inside, the equally peripheralised Lee is happily videoing Rambo: First Blood, so that he can make VHS, and no doubt Betamax, copies for his eldest brother’s loutish chums. Inspired by the excitement on the big screen, Lee decides to remake the movie so that he can win the BBC’s Screen Test competition.

But, before he can do that, he needs an eager and wholesomely naive stuntman to throw himself happily into the frankly terrifying situations he wants to capture on film. Step forward Will, who in exchange for not getting beaten up by the little directing tyro, gleefully catapults himself around forests and derelict building sites to the amusement of his new companion. Will, we learn, is just as imaginative, in fact prodigiously more so, than Lee, his mind creating a stylishly animated universe of colour that explodes around him, and which only we and he can see.

These first scenes are magical, and very very funny. There’s a golden nostalgia shtick going on here, obviously, but executed with such verve and good humour that it’s impossible to criticise as the boys get to know each other, rely on one another, become blood brothers and generally just have a great time.

Of course, the outside world starts to encroach and not only does it derail the simple yet charming plot – as is the intention – but it also threatens to derail the film. First, and acting as a huge and uneven distraction, comes Didier, a French exchange student, who weaves a spell of cool around the school and generally disrupts all the pupils apart from cynical Lee, who sees him as a threat to his power over Will. Bored by his dullard Eeenglish classmates, Didier decides to crash the film, and if Didier wants in, the whole school wants in. This gives Lee a cast of thousands, but it’s not what he’s after; he just wants Will. And, to be honest, so do we. Didier is funny, but he’s a cartoon, a 2D fripperie, and the laughs he produces are too broad. You long, very quickly, for the affecting and authentic connection that the younger boys have clearly got in spades.

Second, the boys have their own domestic pressures; Will struggling with a smothering and controlling lifestyle, and Lee – parentless and with just a big brother to be beaten up by – the exact opposite. There is an undercurrent here that at times is a little too serious and grown-up in comparison to the vigorously carefree jokiness of the first half, and you almost begin to resent, like living an entire life in one summer, the onset of autumn, and an end to the knockabout innocence.

At the end, though, the showdown in the cinema, where things started, is extremely affecting and will make any bloke who may still be in touch with his inner scallywag laugh and cry all at the same time. Despite the rocky bits and the frustrating bits, and the bits where your toes feel wet and cold and you just want to go home, there is a genuinely sparkling seam that runs all the way through this, which will make you remember a time when, if you told your mates you’ve just had the best day ever, you really did mean it.

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