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Son of Rambow

Watching writer/director Garth Jennings' new film, I couldn't help but recall the wonder and excitement I felt the first time I devoured the movies that shaped my childhood. Leaving the movie theater as a wee lad, I remember feeling as if there was no end to the movie I had just seen. It continued on in my mind, living inside me as the characters embodied my actions. I believed wholeheartedly that I could pilot a "piece of junk" through outer space with a wookie as my copilot or that I could crack a whip in search of the lost Ark.

If that sounds familiar to you then this lovable film will bring you back to that time with a smile on your face and maybe even a tear in your eye.

The film takes place just outside of England in 1982, right around the time Stallone's socially-challenged Vietnam vet was introduced to cinemas. It is indeed the movie First Blood that brings two young boys together in an unlikely friendship. Unlikely because they are worlds apart despite living in the same town.

Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is an introverted loner who takes refuge in drawing up an entire book of colorful stories. He lives with his mother, younger sister and grandmother who are all part of the Plymouth Brethren, a religious sect that shuns worldliness, secular music, TV and movies. Then there's freckled Lee Carter (Will Poulter), the thieving, charismatic troublemaker at Will's school. His teachers call him "the devil child" and yes he is a hellion but right away we see that he is just as endearing as Will. He lives with his much-older brother, Lawrence (Ed Westwick), unchecked and on their own while his mother lives in Spain with their stepdad. A situation ripe with mischief.

Lee runs a video piracy business at home for his brother and has secretly decided to make a home movie himself. His goal: to make it the best ever and enter it into the local young filmmakers' contest. Lee finds an awe-struck ally in the imaginative Will, who is soon recruited by Lee to be his stunt double for an action movie he is making.

Once Will sees his first ever movie over at Lee's place, a pirated copy of First Blood, well, it's all over! He becomes obsessed with all things Rambo. He imagines himself as the "Son of Rambow" (stay till the end of the credits for a funny audio clip about the title) and enthusiastically immerses himself in the character...literally. We see Will jump from heights, fall from a tree and swing into a lake all for the sake of the art. Both boys develop an indelible bond as they become amateur cinematic collaborators.

But this wouldn't be the hilarious, touching and joyous film that it is if all went well for our boys. When a busload of French exchange students are dropped off at their school, pretty boy Didier (Jules Sitruk) enters the scene. He captivates the uniformed girls and boys with his black leather, red boots and his new wave music, but provides a driving wedge between the boys when he practically takes over production.

Another challenge is fellow Brethren brother Joshua (Neil Dudgeon) outing his Will's forbidden celluloid adventures while horning his way into his family, putting Will and his family in danger of expulsion. But the most heart-wrenching of challenges is of the hurt caused by the growing egos and stubborn pride of both boys. You really want them to be the best of friends and it breaks your heart when anything opposing that occurs.

Director Jennings (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) and his producing partner Nick Goldsmith really hit the jackpot finding these two non-actors as their leads. They really are perfectly cast and just flawless. I would imagine that Jennings has reels of edited film of these boys that didn't make the released cut.

The supporting cast is excellent as well, particularly Jessica Hynes as Will's devoted mother who patiently tries to relate to his burgeoning backsliding. Little does she know that as much as her son wants to be a good son, he also wants to be the "Son of Rambow". Not only do the laugh-out-loud scenes make the film but the quieter, character moments add a sweet sincerity.

When I found out that the film is partly based on Jennings' own childhood experiences of filmmaking, it made me love the film all the more. No wonder the film has so much heart. It can be seen in the writing and visual storytelling which seem straight out of a fond reminiscing dream. His use of scribbly graphic animation is used wisely, not overdone but rather caters to Will's vivid imagination.

The film is a wonderfully unpretentious reminder of the unlimited possibilities of make believe. The only possible way to not like this film is if you hated being a child and you hate children. It's been a long time since I sat in the theater and felt the same exuberance as the main characters but this film did just that for me.

David J. Fowlie

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