Review: Son of Rambow (2007)

I am still scratching my head on how Son of Rambow ended up in my Netflix queue. I first thought my wife had placed it on there but she said she did not.  Then I thought it was on recommendation of a sibling or friend, but a search of my email revealed nothing. Anyhow, it sat in its red wrapper for few weeks and came with my wife and I down to Chincoteague the other weekend. We finally watched it on an otherwise dreary March night in our hotel room.

Rambo of course is a big muscular character immortalized by Sylvester Stallone. By the time these movies were produced, he was sick of playing Rocky Balboa. I never saw the Rambo movies because big muscular guys shooting up lots of people does not agree with either my head or stomach. Clearly, Rambo had a following as it inspired three additional movies, including one as recent at 2008.

You can understand how Rambo movies might hold some appeal, particularly if in 1982 you are a ten-year-old boy, live in Great Britain, your mother belongs to the Mennonite Church, and you weigh maybe eighty pounds soaking wet. Such is the case of Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) who lives what for most people would be a surreal life in a Mennonite community. There you cannot even attend services without taking off your watch. Will also is forbidden from watching TV or movies, so when a documentary is on the agenda in his public school classroom, the teacher makes him wait out in the hallway. There he encounters Joshua (Neil Dudgeon), the local miscreant of a similar age.

Joshua quickly gives voice to many of Will’s repressed yearnings. Will expresses his creative yearnings with florid drawings in a book he carries with him. Joshua wants to be an action movie director. In particular he is fixated on John J. Rambo, as portrayed in the movie First Blood, where Rambo returns stateside to wreak some havoc. Clearly, Joshua would like to emulate Rambo, but he is inconveniently still a kid. Still, he has plenty of time to indulge his pursuits. He is overseen by an older brother who he worships but who largely ignores him. He and his brother apparently live in the back of a nursing home.

When Joshua casts Will in his amateur movie he calls Son of Rambow, Will and Joshua become improbable friends. Casting Will as Rambo’s son is quite a stretch considering that Rambo has more muscles in one bicep than Will has on his entire body. Soon Joshua is filming Will doing all sorts of crazy stunts, all without the training of a professional stuntman. Will is having the time of his life, but he has to continually sneak away from his mother to make time for his new friend.

Eventually though Will’s creative side asserts itself. Rather than act with someone else pulling the strings, he would rather change the storyline to create his own scenes. This upsets Joshua, who likes being the Alpha in the relationship. A larger cast is needed to complete the movie. Fortunately, the casting situation improves when a group of French exchange students show up for an extended visit. The English middle school students are largely awestruck by these fashionable and chic arrivals. Especially ultra-cool is the exotic Didier (Jules Sitruk) who merely has to flick his wrist to have a line of English girls at his disposal. Even Didier has ambitions. When he learns of Joshua’s film, he wants a piece of the action, as do many in his entourage.

For a group of middle schoolers, it becomes clear why Rambo holds so much appeal. Rambo can do things that they cannot in the well-ordered Great British. The naughty Joshua, who can get away with just about anything, becomes an easy conduit for expressing their largely repressed sides. After a while, Joshua finds his cast rebelling. Instead of controlling people through his movies, they each begin to go off script, showing their own repressed personalities. This tension causes predictable relationship ruptures between Will and Joshua, Joshua and his older brother, Will and his mother, and Will’s mother and her Mennonite paramour.

Stand By Me, this ain’t. Stand By Me had a much better director (Rob Reiner) versus Garth Jennings, who directed this movie. It turns out that in 1982 when First Blood was released, Jennings was only ten. Perhaps there is something autobiographical about this movie, given that Jennings also wrote the screenplay. As a film, it is uneven and frequently feels disjointed. It may be that this is really a movie for today’s thirty-somethings, for whom movies like First Blood with ultra-virile men like Sylvester Stallone held some undue fascination. It does have some humorous moments and both Will and Joshua feel reasonably authentic. Overall the movie is hard to get into and harder to finish. My wife made it to the end of the 96-minute film only to please me. I came close to giving up on the movie myself, but other than HBO, there were no entertainment alternatives on a cold and wet March night in our hotel room.

So this is a movie you can safely skip. It rises above mediocrity, but if this is supposed to be a coming of age movie, it is a subprime example. You would do better renting Stand By Me instead.

2.8 on my 4.0 scale.

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