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Son of Rambow (Paramount Vantage, PG-13)

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film_rambow_sm.jpgJennings, a former music video director for Blur, Pulp, Beck and R.E.M., evokes the same playfulness of home video homage/parody as Michel Gondry, another famed video director, did with Be Kind Rewind in ways surprisingly more effective.







I've likely discussed my issues with forced sentimentality in previous reviews, but with each film that succumbs to this plague of filmmaking, I begin to hone in on why and how this begins to rot your film. With Son of Rambow, we have a cute premise. In the early 1980s in England, an awkward boy Will (Bill Milner) from a frighteningly devout Christian household befriends the school bully Carter (Will Poulter), who's on a mission to win an amateur filmmaking contest by remaking First Blood with his older brother's camcorder. Thankfully, Son of Rambow's smeared-on sentimentality doesn't come until the last 15 minutes or so, which gives you at least an hour and 20 minutes to revel in director Garth Jennings' (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) stunningly rendered vision of the vivaciousness of youth.

Jennings, a former music video director for Blur, Pulp, Beck and R.E.M., evokes the same playfulness of home video homage/parody as Michel Gondry, another famed video director, did with Be Kind Rewind in ways surprisingly more effective. Like Be Kind Rewind, Son of Rambow relies on an endearing gimmick of no-budget Hollywood remakes, but Jennings' inventiveness doesn't end with that (as Be Kind Rewind regretfully does). He employs hand-drawn moments over his frame and a Crayola-colored panorama across his film, perfectly mirroring the young Will's impressive imagination (again, considerably more effective than the bloody awful The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys from a few years back).

Trouble begins to stir in paradise when the young boys' experiment gets the attention of a too-cool-for-school French exchange student named Didier (Jules Sitruk) whose all-knowing hipness has forever reshaped the student body of the kids' school. While the inclusion of Didier allows for Will and Carter to have countless extras and crew members at their disposal, his addition begins to compromise the duo's vision, in which Will plays the son of "Rambow" on a mission to save his father from an evil scarecrow. The depiction of the Didier character becomes a bit difficult to swallow, a figure we're never sure we should be taking seriously. Didier introduces the other students to a world of Siouxsie & the Banshees, stylish coiffure and Pop Rocks, all of which add up to a confusing portrait of the hauteur of the French or perhaps the English's strange obsession with them. Either way, Didier makes for a forgivable distraction in Son of Rambow, particularly once Jennings decides to "teach" his audience something about the bind of family and friendship.

The tacked-on sappiness thus becomes an issue of its inclusion in this film than it does in pure existence. I'm sure the same business when placed in a film like Because I Said So would have been perfectly fitting for both its audience and absence of freshness. Son of Rambow is never short on ambition (and for the record, it was made a year before Be Kind Rewind, premiering at Sundance in January 2007), and the fact that it's so terribly engaging and spirited makes its closing moments so painful to endure. If only Jennings had taken a Brillo pad to his ending, Son of Rambow might have been the most fun you've had at the cinemas so far this year. | Joe Bowman

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