It’s the early 1980s and First Blood is awesome. And I’m not the only one that thinks so. Two British school lads have my back on this one. Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is shy and reserved. I should also mention that his family is part of some wack-a-doo sect called the Brethren, and his mother has headscarves in every shade of bland known to human kind.
Will is not allowed to watch TV, have outside friends, or do anything that even remotely resembles fun. There is, however, a little rebellious streak somewhere deep down inside. He makes flipbooks out of his notebooks, and the pages of his bible are covered with drawings of fantastic creatures and brilliant colors. It’s there; it just needs to be developed. Enter resident badass, Lee Carter (Will Poulter). He’s the worst kid in school—think Bart Simpson but without those wussy pangs of guilt or remorse when he does something really fucked up. Lee Carter steals and lies and uses his older brother’s video equipment to pirate movies.
It turns out that Lee Carter is also a burgeoning filmmaker. After he cons Will out of his dead father’s watch, he bullies the smaller boy into doing all of the stunts for his entry in the Screen Test Young Filmmakers contest. The two boys end up at Lee Carter’s house, and when Lawrence, the vaguely abusive older brother/pseudo-guardian shows up, Lee Carter forces Will into a rowboat that dangles from the ceiling. While Will is trapped in the rafters, a TV plays a bootleg copy of First Blood. As with many of his generation, Will’s worldview is forever changed for the better by the onscreen mayhem.
After that, shit is on. Will dives headfirst into the job of stuntman, and the two decide to film Will’s story “Son of Rambow.” This entails Will jumping out of a tree with an umbrella, being shot at with a crossbow, and swinging into the middle of a river though he is unable to swim. Lee Carter saves the drowning boy, and the two reluctant friends become blood brothers.
Along with this newfound sense of freedom and adventure, Will has picked up a couple other things from Lee Carter. He lies to his mother, shoplifts, and generally does everything that he is not supposed to do. Brother Joshua, a repressive Brethren elder who wants to spiritually do it to Will’s mom, takes notice of the changes and tries to put the kibosh on that. We can’t have anyone having fun or being friends with outsiders, now can we? Now in full on rebel mode, Will is having none of that noise, and the Brethren threaten to excommunicate the whole Proudfoot clan. Mom is torn between the love for her son and her stupid stupid faith.
At school, Lee Carter finds a way to bring Will’s “Flying Dog” (which is just that) to life. It starts off beautifully, and ends even more beautifully with a ruined school science lab, and a teacher with a pair of scissors up his nose. Lee takes the fall and gets suspended, and all of a sudden everyone, including French exchange student Didier, want in on the film.
Didier is super cool. He has floppy hair, wears red pointy boots, and listens to Depeche Mode and the Cure. Pubescent girls want to do things with him that they don’t quite understand, and uptight adolescent British boys want to be him. He also has the clout to get a ton of people involved. Will gets drawn into this new world of afterschool parties with Pop Rocks and New Wave. Lee Carter says bollocks to this, and the two start to feud.
While filming the final scene at an abandoned power plant, everything goes totally to shit. The fight comes to a head, and Lee Carter quits and storms off. Will gets thrown from a crashing Jeep, lands in a vat of oil, and is trapped by falling debris. Everyone else freaks out and scatters, with the exception of Lee Carter. He comes back to save Will, but claims that he only came back to retrieve his brother’s camera, which is now in pieces. We can tell it is a bullshit excuse, but Lee Carter is much too tough to show emotion. Then some more of the rickety old plant collapses on top of Lee Carter and crushes the shit out of him. All in all, no one had a very good day.
Lawrence visits Lee Carter at the hospital, but unable to cope with his own conflicting emotions, just gets angry over the state of his camera. In the car he realizes that his little brother is all he has.
Will tries to visit, but Lee Carter ignores him. Someone else won the Screen Test Young Filmmakers contest and Lee Carter must sulk.
Mama Proudfoot realizes that her son needs to be allowed to be himself, and must be given room stretch his wings and all of that good stuff that kids need. So she gives a big ol’ heave ho to the Brethren, and creepy ass Brother Joshua, who I suspect is into little boys.
When Didier and the other French kids get back on their bus to go back to France, we see that all of the other French kids think he’s a pretentious douche, and that he is all alone and is actually a lonely sad child, not the suave, world wise party boy lothario he pretended to be.
Now that those subplots are tied up nice and tidy, we can get back to the heart of the story. Lawrence picks Lee Carter up from the hospital and drives him to the movie theater. The marquee says this showing of Yentl will be preceded by a special short film. Lawrence sits his brother down, and low and behold, the short film is Son of Rambow. Holy crap, I didn’t see that coming. Lee Carter is embarrassed, but as the film goes on the audience roars with laughter, his touch and brooding façade melts away, and his enthusiasm for the project comes out. There is even some new footage at the end. Lawrence has taken on the role of the evil scarecrow and includes a touching message to his little brother. The crowd gives an enthusiastic round of applause at the end, and Will shows up to usher his blood brother out of the theater. Seriously, who the fuck wants to watch Yentl?
As predictable as the end is, Son of Rambow manages to be funny and touching. The kids, all of them—which is most of the cast—are spot on. I didn’t want to slap a single one, which is something special since I want to slap almost every kid I see. Garth Jennings and Nick Goldsmith (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) aren’t breaking any new ground here, but overall this movie is probably better whatever garbage you were going to watch tonight.