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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

I Want to be The Son of Rambow

Director Garth Jennings is one half of the British production team known as Hammer & Tongs (along with producer Nick Goldsmith) and together they made a bunch of commercials and music videos. I took note of who they were about nine years ago when I saw their video for Blur’s “Coffee and TV” which I thought was so delightfully strange as it follows as a milk carton’s tragic yet hopeful journey. That video blended a lot of really interesting elements together, including a semi-profound message about life and death and it’s all about a freaking walking milk carton. There’s something about the ability to take a rather whimsical story idea and make it more dense with emotion than you otherwise thought possible. On the surface, the story of a milk carton who dies when someone drinks the milk out of him is silly and maybe even stupid; but the actualization of this idea is almost haunting, and still being silly as all hell. The point is, Garth Jennings was clearly someone to watch because walking that tightrope is exceedingly difficult.

So when I had heard that this very same team (also responsible for the awesome R.E.M. video for “Imitation of Life”) was going to direct The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I was as psyched as could be since Douglas Adams’ novel is such a trip and I thought they found a guy with the right sensibility for that tale. Ultimately, it was Jennings’ first film and I don’t think he delivered for myriad reasons; chief of them being that I think the big effects and big names got in the way of what Jennings really wanted to do, which was to tell a really good and fun story. The interactions between the characters in that book seemed to be what interested Jennings the most and it’s the part that works the best on the screen, but all of the big sequences fall flat.

After that middling effort, Jennings has returned with a new film which was a sensation at Sundance ’07 and it’s called Son of Rambow. It’s a much smaller picture about young kids in 1980’s England and I could tell from the opening minutes that this was more in Jennings’ wheelhouse.

The story follows Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) who belongs to a strict Evangelical sect called the Plymouth Brethren that disallows anything modern to enter their secluded lives, including television or movies. Will is allowed to go to a regular public school, but he’s not allowed to watch movies in class; so anytime there is an educational movie shown in class, Will has to leave the room. And it is during one of those days when he meets the school con man, Lee Carter (Will Poulter). At first, Lee enjoys manipulating Will into being his flunky, but before long they develop a close friendship after Will accidentally views Lee’s bootleg copy of First Blood.

Together, the boys decide they want to make a film together using a borrowed video camera. Lee is going to direct it and Will is going to star as, you guessed it, the son of Rambo (the misspelling makes sense at the end).

The film goes through a lot of the motions that most coming-of-age films go through, including the nasty fight that threatens to split the boys up but Jennings shows this relationship in such a sincere and sweet way that we can’t help but get caught up in the story of these young boys that want nothing more than to make their own movie. Jennings is also smart enough to bring levity to the more serious moments by including a subplot involving a French foreign exchange student and the girls that flock to him. But at its core, this is a film about both the family you’re born with and the family that you meet along the way.

The most interesting comparison I could think of when I was watching this film was Michel Gondry’s muddled Be Kind, Rewind which isn’t half the film that this one is because it doesn’t get at the simple joy of making a movie and the hardships along the way. Both films are about two people who decide to recreate a film, but Son of Rambow is able to inject whimsy into the proceedings while keeping the story grounded in reality. The characters in Jennings’ film aren’t oddballs for the sake of the plot, they are organically grown oddballs. In Gondry’s film, we don’t know why Jack Black is so eccentric, he just is because that’s what is demanded of his character; while in Jennings’ film, we get at the heart of why Will yearns so much to be free while Lee Carter tries desperately to find boundaries and the answers are handled deftly and genuinely. It’s not a story about big twists or emotional catharses, it’s a small tale of two friends who have very different problems at home and find a release together when they are filming their movie.

By the way, this is also a film that is very funny. And the interesting thing about it is that it’s funny in a way that doesn’t make you feel stupid for laughing at it. The humor isn’t based on anything too zany or contrived. It’s funny because it hits at life’s emotional truths. There are no gags that I can really repeat in this space to tell you what I’m referring to (although there are a few pratfalls) because it wouldn’t be funny to repeat it, rather the funny bits are character tics that sprout into laughs because of how the characters have or have not grown. It’s got a great sense of humor from the beginning to the end and it helps give the filmmakers a safety valve when things get a little too sentimental.

The acting is terrific all the way around and very few famous faces (Ed Westwick from  Gossip Girl plays Lee Carter’s brother and Jessica Stevenson of Spaced plays Will’s mother) populate the cast. The story belongs to the two unknown kids, Bill Milner and Will Poulter,and I don’t know if either of them are planning on pursuing careers in acting, but they both bring a wisdom and maturity to their performances that is hard to come by in child actors. It’s always difficult to try and predict the career of anyone under the age of fifteen, but these kids are terrific in the parts they play here and that’s all that matters. They may not go on to become the next Natalie Portmans or Jodie Fosters, but they give convincing, sturdy performances here and I’ll be glad to watch them if I have the chance to do so in the future. And with young kids, a lot of credit has to be given to the director for corralling them and coaxing these performances out of them.

Ultimately, this isn’t the kind of film that will be in the mix for the Academy Awards in the fall, nor should it be. What it is, instead, is a film that you’ll be glad you spent ten bucks and ninety minutes on because it is fun, poignant, touching and it will speak to the film geek in all of you. It will remind you that there is no greater feeling than seeing something you have created, projected for all the world to see. And I hope Garth Jennings feels that way when he sees this film and it reminds him to love what he does and keep giving us more of it.

– Noah Forrest
April 30, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon