Son of Rambow: Young Blood 

Garth Jennings' comedy illuminates the joys of DIY filmmaking

Wednesday, Apr 30 2008

No adult has ever been able to codify what separates a good movie from a classic. In kid terms, though — those favored by Son of Rambow, a chipper tribute to the cinema as both supplier and repository of dreams — a good movie merely sends you bounding home from the theater. A great movie demands some further physical response, like beaning your neighbor with a volleyball. And a classic? Simple. A classic makes you want to make movies.

Maggie Ferreira

"Hey, I said I wanted to play the Richard Crenna part."

Long ago, in the distant 1980s in which Son of Rambow is set, classic wasn’t the word anyone would have used to describe First Blood — at least not anyone above the age of consent for chocolate milk. A moody, proficient revenge thriller that heralded a coming wave of post-Vietnam sulking, it nonetheless begat Sylvester Stallone’s segue from mush-mouthed punching bag to mush-mouthed killing machine. As a thrill ride, it’s a lot slower to crank up than that other celluloid ’coaster of the early ’80s, Raiders of the Lost Ark — which famously inspired three Mississippi 12-year-olds to spend six years risking life, limb and one kid’s basement filming their own VHS shot-for-shot remake.

Watch First Blood, however, from the POV of a lonely, picked-on tween-age boy — i.e., the sensibility that pervades it — and it’s a projector-beamed bolt from the blue. In that light, John Rambo looks like Mattel’s own adolescent-angst action figure: ostracized, misunderstood by the world, preyed upon by authority figures and, best of all, unencumbered by girls. No wonder the misfit heroes of writer-director Garth Jennings’ whimsical comedy — two enterprising British school kids who set out to make their own Stallone-derived fireballapalooza — feel less kinship to Indiana Jones, the keeper of covenants, than to Rambo, the army of one.

click to enlarge MAGGIE FERREIRA - "Hey, I said I wanted to play the Richard Crenna part."
  • Maggie Ferreira
  • "Hey, I said I wanted to play the Richard Crenna part."

Related Stories

Introduced bootlegging First Blood at the neighborhood movie house, scruffy little hustler Lee (Will Poulter), an Artful Dodger with bat-wing eyebrows and con-man cheek, has only the company of movies and a bulky camcorder. (The movie regards its ’80s artifacts the way an archaeologist might peruse a stone ax: a shoebox-sized wireless phone looks like something Patton might’ve used to order troop maneuvers.) All but abandoned by his parents and mistreated by his caddish older bro, the conniving Lee takes a page from Rambo and passes the hurt along to someone else: a dreamy, repressed tyke named Will Proudfoot (the elfin Bill Milner), whose religion makes the sign of the cross against demon cinema.

Will may quietly adorn his notebooks with cartoon explosions and flip-corner mayhem — flights of fancy that Jennings renders in endearingly herky-jerky line animation — but Lee has to cajole, bully and guilt-trip his naive new chum into top-lining his top-secret home movie. What it takes, ultimately, to make a believer of Will is a glimpse of Hollywood’s forbidden fruit on Lee’s VCR. The movie’s cleverest, most exuberant sequence follows Will dashing home as his head buzzes for the first time with celluloid excess. The excitement of new sensations fuses with the dream language of movies: Lee’s overhead fluorescent lights morph into Universal horror thunderbolts, while a neighbor’s noisy pooch becomes a literal dogfight pilot.

Jennings, part of the celebrated Hammer & Tongs production team, finds a tone here that’s more winsome and less desperately wacky than his film version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, especially as the movie-within-a-movie mutates into quirkily revealing psychodrama. Will and Lee’s escape into cinema proves contagious for the rest of their school — especially once a glamorously bored French exchange student (Jules Sitruk) staves off ennui long enough to kick some ninth-grade ninja asses. The project — kids acting out the playground equivalent of fan fiction — is powerful enough to overturn the school’s hierarchy of cool. Soon, mousy Will is pogoing to the crazy new sound of Depeche Mode with a roomful of Space Dust–chugging hipsters — while Lee looks on miserably, hopelessly upstaged.

Their falling-out seems trumped up to provide last-minute conflict, as does the heavy-handed subplot involving the oppressive brethren of Will’s church — boilerplate complications that keep the movie away from Will and Lee’s makeshift movie set for (too-) long stretches. But at its most likable, Son of Rambow evokes the rush of discovery that turns budding cinephiles into lifers — that delight in finding a film that seems to express or coalesce some inchoate yearning, including a yen to share.

Why is it that kids playing dress-up in blockbuster tropes rarely gets old? Perhaps more to the point, why does the idea of rough-hewn DIY cinema seem so appealing now? Son of Rambow’s comrades and/or antecedents include not just the Raiders adaptation, but also Rushmore’s Max Fischer Players, Jonathan Caouette’s Blue Velvet high school musical in Tarnation and the homemade video-store knockoffs in Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind. In differing ways, means and styles, each celebrates the sandpapery texture and tenacity of scrappy personal visions, whose flaws and grit are a welcome respite from generic mainstream gloss.

SON OF RAMBOW | Written and directed by GARTH JENNINGS | Produced by NICK GOLDSMITH | Released by Paramount Vantage | ArcLight Hollywood, The Landmark

Reach the writer at jridley@nashvillescene.com

Related Content

Now Showing

  1. Tue 22
  2. Wed 23
  3. Thu 24
  4. Fri 25
  5. Sat 26
  6. Sun 27
  7. Mon 28

    Find capsule reviews, showtimes & tickets for all films in town.

    Sponsored by Fandor

Box Office

Scores provided by Rotten Tomatoes

Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, concert and dining info & more!


  • Cowabunga! 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    The COWABUNGA! - 30 Years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles tribute show opened Friday night at Iam8bit. Guests donned their beloved turtle graphic tees, onesies and a couple April O'Neils were there to report on all the mean, green, fighting machine action. Artist included Jude Buffum, Tony Mora, Nan Lawson, leesasaur, Jim Rucc, Mitch Ansara, Guin Thompson, Stratman, Gabe Swarr, Joseph Harmon, Alex Solis, Allison Hoffman, Jose Emroca Flores, Jack Teagle and more. All photos by Shannon Cottrell.
  • Are Westerns For The Weak? Not According to "Sensei" Martin Kove
    Decades ago, the western film was king, with nearly 100 produced every year at their peak in the 1940s, and their popularity extending years beyond. But today, other than rare successes like Django Unchained or True Grit, the genre is not in great shape. Films such as Cowboys and Aliens and The Lone Ranger failed to spark new interests in the western. It's a tough nut to crack, but veteran movie bad guy Martin Kove -- most well known for his role as Sensei John Kreese in The Karate Kid -- is passionate about the classic American film genre and is trying to revive it. We spent an afternoon at his home talking about westerns and how to make the genre interesting again. All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • Scenes from The Gallery of Film Poster Art at CSUN
    The Gallery of Film Poster Art at Cal State Northridge is the country's only permanent university exhibit dedicated to the art of the movie poster. The gallery houses rare and international film posters from the collection of Steve Olson, whose business card reads "Buyer of Investment Properties -- Collector of Rare Movie & Art Posters." John Schultheiss, Professor of Cinema and Television Arts at CSUN as well as the curator of the poster gallery, says he's heard from visitors that it's the best-kept secret in L.A. CSUN doesn't advertise the gallery so people have to stumble across it or hear of it somehow. Schultheiss hopes that people will begin to associate CSUN with something particularly important and special after visiting the gallery. All original photos by Jared Cowan.

Movie Trailers

View all movie trailers >>

Now Trending