Lads, camera, action belongs among the best coming-of-age films, writes
Son of Rambow SON OF RAMBOW Directed by Garth Jennings. Starring Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jessica Stevenson, Neil Dudgeon Donald Clarke
12A cert, gen release, 96 min SO MANY pitfalls await the filmmaker embarking on a coming-ofage movie. At the raucous end of the spectrum, we find a litter of films in which burping halfwits seek out ever more inappropriate places in which to urinate. At the other, more blubby extreme, directors offer us endless entertainments focusing on soiled young peasants and the golden hay-wains under which they will spoon. And let’s not start on that sub-genre dealing with malnourished Irish waifs and their unhappy interactions with the Catholic Church.
With all this in mind, we should offer the most enthusiastic of hurrahs to Garth Jennings and the rest of the team behind the smashing Son of Rambow. Detailing the waxing relationship between two very different boys in outer London during the early 1980s, the film is hip but not overly gimmicky, touching but not sentimental, good-natured but only occasionally drippy. It could lie comfortably beside prestigious bedfellows such as Kes and Gregory’s Girl.
Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a shy boy growing up in a household governed by the principles of the eye-wateringly puritanical Plymouth Brethren. His widowed mother, played touchingly by Jessica Stevenson, forbids the viewing of television and takes a dim view of any other medium invented after the Peasants’ Revolt. Meanwhile, the ill-disciplined, wildly gregarious Lee Carter (Will Poulter), whose mother lives abroad, spends his time soaking up action films and getting flung out of maths class.
The two lads rub-up against one another in the school corridor and begin an experimental friendship. Lee has elected to enter a film into the BBC’s Screen Test competition (if this means nothing to you, then ask your dad) and decides that the easily-led Will might like to act as stuntman.
Lee’s film is, of course, the dubiously spelled Son of Rambow. Calling to mind aspects of Michelle Gondry’s recent Be Kind Rewind, the young film-makers use ingeniously improvised special effects and hopelessly amateur actors to tell a story filled with tension, action and wildly irresponsible behaviour. Tensions on the shoot rise when a pretentious, arrogant (surely not!) French exchange student seeks to oil his way into the cast.
The key to the picture’s success lies in its ability to blend modish cinematic flourishes with an emotionally rooted plotline. Jennings, whose first feature was the modestly successful Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, is one member of Hammer and Tongs, a hugely influential production house, and Son of Rambow abounds with the kind of visually arresting image in which pop-video directors specialise. An early pan across a cinema audience, every member of which has a cigarette clamped in his or her mouth, establishes the tone within the first 20 minutes. Subtly composed animations, modelled on Will’s own drawings, offer touching footnotes to the action.
Son of Rambow would, however, never catch fire without sterling juvenile performances. Milner is impressive enough as the buttoned up Will, but Poulter, playing the noisier Lee, steals the film from under his nose. One is tempted to compare him to a young River Phoenix, but Poulter has an aggressive swagger and ease with dialogue that is completely his own. The character’s eventual moments of weakness would only be half as moving if we had not been so persuaded by his earlier self-confidence.
The end result is that most rare of entities: a film for everyone. Men, women, cynics, Pollyannas, adults, children (noting the 12A cert), cats, dogs, Protestants, Catholics and unbelievers should all find something to enjoy here. Only Plymouth Brethren and the French will have cause for complaint.
Mind you, the former are not, on this evidence, allowed to go the cinema and the latter should have grown used to the odd satirical barb by now.
Commando kid: Will Proudfoot finds his calling