Every other movie that comes out these days seems to be about grim reality, from dysfunctional family drama to political intrigue to violent world conflict. While many of these films are very good, I hadn’t realized how much I needed a break from them until I ran across something completely different. “Son of Rambow,” by director/screenwriter Garth Jennings, delivers a nostalgic ode to childhood that reminds us of what it’s like to be a kid. It’s charming and touching, and the best part is, it manages to be so without saccharine sweetness.
As part of a Plymouth Brethren family, young William Proudfoot is supposed to keep away from the corrupting influence of others, which makes for a lonely existence at school. While the rest of the kids are doing “normal” things—like listening to rock music and watching television—Will creates a vivid fantasy world for himself. He is alone in this world until he gets mixed up with the school bully, Lee Carter. Will inadvertently sees a copy of “First Blood” at Carter’s house, and the odd relationship between the two boys quickly turns into friendship when they decide to film their own home movie version. The stunts that the two boys enact are achieved with the imperviousness and dumb luck that only kids possess. However, when other students—especially a popular foreign exchange student—get involved, the integrity of the secret project is corrupted.
Will (Bill Milner) and Carter (Will Poulter) are like a contemporary Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as they traipse around the idyllic woods on adventures fueled by imagination. Will’s eventual seduction by the cool kids signals an end of their innocence, but even this is played in a light-hearted way. In a nod to the film industry, the school is represented as a microcosm of Hollywood– groupies are schoolgirls, alcohol and drugs are Coca-cola and Pop Rocks, and the hipster elite are preteens dressed as Cure fans (it is supposed to be the 80’s, after all).
Milner does a great job as lead, but it is Poulter who steals the show, bringing a range of emotion to his role as incorrigible troublemaker. The movie captures a time gone by and extols the importance of lasting friendship, but it is shrew enough to temper the sentimentality with a sense of humor. Like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Son of Rambow” is this year’s diamond in the rough, a small movie that is big in heart and promises to be big at the box office.