The Kid Stays in the Picture: Son of Rambow

Dweebcentric apologizes in advance for any lack of coherence in this post… I’m trying to post very old drafts and write them while getting distracted at a conference…

The English (along with the Australians) masters of  feel-good comedy, keen to tolerable amounts of family-palatable material and evasive of the over-compensatory crudeness relied on by American filmmakers. The opening sequence of Son of Rambow (2007)–which marks a change in the typically grim selections of distributor Paramount’s Vantage Films–follows pre-teen misfit Lee Carter (played remarkably naturally by Will Poulter) racing down the roads of his early 1980s English countryside neighborhood with a backpack containing freshly recorded bootlegs of First Blood (1982). The accompanying music and comical additives (Carter throws something over a hedge at a man standing on a ladder in his yard) might entice American audiences into that Rob Reiner-esque conditioning of near-impeccable adolescence, near-impeccable families, and near-impeccable suburban homes. You could almost see adorable little Mason Gamble peddling his training wheels-supported bike and loud, rattling red wagon attachment in the beginning of Dennis the Menace (1993). But then the English suddenly remind us, as Lee Carter films his bootleg in the dark theater with a cigarette in his free hand, that these are, to a certain extent (well… it is still a world established by the imagination of filmmakers and production hogs), real kids. They neither need look perfect nor behave perfectly. The carefully cut previews hint at their epic adventures that eventually consume the whole town and if the circumstances are right, the empathetic viewer.

At the center of writer/director Garth Jennings‘ Son of Rambow (look for connections to the Spaced (1999) crew) are the mismatched pairing of eventual friends. At one extreme is Lee Carter (Will Poulter) who shares a his estranged step-father’s lavish home attached to a nursing home with his obnoxious, materialistic older brother Lawrence. Carter is witty, cynical and best of all, daring, all of which may be natural consequences of minimal parental supervision. And, it’s quite different from his newfound friend, Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), the typically awkward, bashful and imaginative loner, alienated from the other schoolchildren because of his strict religious upbringing.

For some reason, the English and the Irish can’t seem to avoid this impetus in tales of unlikely young friends. Previous examples being ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ in which a soccer enthusaist’s placement on an official girl’s team was frowned upon by her overprotective parents, who worried of its impact on their Hindi identity. Will and Lee embody that kind of loveable young mischief in making their movie, and in a sense it is an epic unfolding as the boys (but mostly Will, who becomes a sort of celebrity) recruit and pique the interest of other students in their school–though tarnishing Lee’s original vision for their movie–and the fact that his mother (Jessica Hynes, who plays roommate Daisy in Spaced) and the curious instigator/parental ally Brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) interfere are quite unreasonable. ‘Son of Rambow’ is a celebration of harmless, unrestrained adolescence, something that seems to have gotten lost in American films; their subjects seem to lack any kind of real authenticity. They are portrayed in extremes – either impecably wholesome, incredibly dumb, or, purely apathetic (and I’d like to take issue with Gus Van Sant’s recent slew of teen-themed movies at some point in this blog) In a review of the 1987 film, The Monster Squad, Missy, of begins the introduction by correctly noting that it had what kids movies aren’t allowed to have these days… cursing, political incorrectness, smoking, and Scary German Guys. ‘Son of Rambow’ manages to maintain the authenticity, even in Will, who’s mother seemed to suggest that childhood is a moral fray that one must eventually abandon. How frustrating to believe that this abandon is necessary for a wholesome life. Audiences seemed to revel in the most delight when the young characters were fully permitted to be exactly that – children.


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