British writer/director Garth Jennings is a child of 1980s multiplex cinema, as the presence of his new film, Son of Rambow, overtly attests. And like many young directors working today, Jennings was raised on ’80s music videos, a medium in which he later flourished while working with such bands as Blur, Fatboy Slim, Pulp and R.E.M.
Jennings’ wry comic sensibility made his feature debut, 2005’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an unexpectedly likable (and underrated) sci-fi adaptation. He brings that same playfulness to Son of Rambow, a heartfelt, entertaining and sometimes unconvincing coming-of-age comedy.
It’s 1982 in suburban England, and 11-year-old Will (an excellent Bill Milner) is something of an oddball outcast at school. The product of a single mother (Jessica Stevenson) whose fundamentalist religious tendencies are beginning to encroach on his burgeoning worldview, Will spends his days creating elaborate drawings in his sketchbook.
Things begin to change when he meets the school’s resident bully, Lee Carter (Will Poulter), who’s been emotionally abandoned by his affluent family. What at first is a one-sided friendship — Lee blackmails Will for his lunch money among other humiliations — slowly shifts when the two bond over a pirated copy of First Blood. They decide to film their own version of Stallone’s initial Rambo foray, which leads to newfound attention from their classmates and a host of narrative twists — some believable, others less so.
Jennings’ attention to detail (think a less ornate, slightly less whimsical Wes Anderson) and devotion to organic, lo-fi effects synch well with the film’s rampant nostalgia. But it’s that same devotion to sentiment that nearly carries this love letter to the movies of Jennings’ childhood into soggy territory. Grade: B-
Opens May 23. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.