After a week of high-power documentaries and wrenching dramas at Sundance, there's a strong chance I may have been extra-susceptible to the charm and sheer exuberance of Son of Rambow, the newest film from director Garth Jennings and the production team known as Hammer and Tongs. But I don't think so; the giddy, goofy and heartfelt creativity of Son of Rambow would stand out regardless of where, or when, one had the good fortune to see it. In 1980's Britain, young Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is a good-hearted, slightly burdened young boy, grieving his lost father, constrained and supported by the humble Christian community his mother finds solace in. The group shuns television and films; they live with simplicity, piety and grace. None of which, it seems, can compete with Sylvester Stallone....
After a spot of bother at school, Will winds up not-quite-friends with troublemaker Carter (Will Poulter), a scamp with slight troubles. In the storage shed at Will's family's business, Will is exposed to a pirated VHS copy of First Blood. Will's never seen a movie, or heard a story not taken directly from The Bible. It is, to him, a revelation of the highest order and leads to Will and Carter collaborating on a camcorder epic, Son of Rambow. The fact that Will seems to be working out some issues with his absent father is fairly obvious, as is the tension between Will's sacred teachings and his more secular desire to run through the English countryside pretending to commit acts of derring-do.
The thing is, we see Will's world -- his desire to escape, his thwarted creativity, the wish and need to do something, anything to change the shape and nature of his life. We also get a sense of Carter's troubles and his triumphs, too -- even when a newly-arrived French exchange student, Didier, who may in fact be the coolest kid in the world, horns into the production. Much of Son of Rambow feels like a hallucinatory mix of Rushmore and Day for Night -- as the challenges of moviemaking are met with truly miniscule resources and sincerely Herculean enthusiasm.
Son of Rambow feels as real as Will's fantasies of flying dogs and walking planes, but it's also as joyful and inventive and exuberant, as funny and heartfelt as every child's dreams; it's a brilliant celebration of the exuberance and thrill of bad storytelling, of making art, of having dreams. Will wants to be a good son, but he also wants to be the Son of Rambow -- trying to accomplish both may be impossible. Son of Rambow earns every laugh, from perfectly-timed slapstick to a parade of '80s fashion faux pas, to quiet-yet-hilarious moments as Will and Carter negotiate their creative partnership and friendship to the zero-budget charms of the actual film they make.
Watching it, you can't help but think of all the lazy afternoons you spent as a kid dreaming of being Indiana Jones or Lt. Ripley, Flash Gordon or Nancy Drew, as the shared world of other people's stories melded with the unique mix of daydreams and ideas that were yours alone. Son of Rambow is a great reminder -- of joy, of possibility, of youth -- and at the same time, it makes you feel like dreams are still possible, and that joy is all around if you're willing to dare to find it.