‘Sweet’ is a hard quality to get across in a film – go in too heavy and the audience just feels violently sick. It’s a dangerous game to go playing, but luckily Garth Jennings’ follow-up to HHGTTG manages to just about nail it.
Son of Rambow centres on Will, a sheltered young lad from a slightly iffy religious sect, who has a chance meeting with Lee Carter, the school hard-nut. When he sees Carter’s pirated version of ‘First Blood’, it sets his imagination wild, and the duo soon team up to make their own unofficial sequel for a BBC competition. Soon the whole school, including rock star-esque French exchange student Didier, wants in on the action, and the project gains a momentum all of its own.
The film is chock-full of 80s detail, from the romantic view of huge video cameras to the crazed array of costumes sproted by the 6th formers at the boys’ school. And Son of Rambow‘s success does rest partly on its quirky details and inspired concepts – Will’s drawings in his Bible that come to life in his imagination once the young duo start filming, and the inspired use of a charity collection box as subsititute for a flying animal are two of the best. You also get scarecrows as enemies, old men dressed as Rambo, and Col. Trautmann weilding a big stick instead of a gun. There are some top laughs here as well, and some great slapstick moments, one involving a pair of scissors and a nose. All that’s not to say that there isn’t real substance here, and the relationship between the boys is well-developed and realistic.
Will’s idealised view of Carter (which extends to always calling him by his full name) leads you to think that Carter is the dominant one of the pair, but it soon becomes clear that both have their problems, need each other, and, typically of young boys, let the other one know through shouting at them. Both the young leads put in excellent performances, never seeming forced or hackneyed, even in the film’s more emotional moments. Will’s relationship with his Mum, ably played by Jessica Hynes, is well-observed, a mostly unspoken struggle between Will’s religious past, and his desire to have a ‘normal’ life. And Carter’s troubled family background gets an equally sympathetic treatment, shown as a victim of circumstance rather than a bad egg.
It’s this even-handedness and lack of overstatement that make this film’s touching bits that much sweeter. There’s a genuinely emotional ending, and even those characters who seemed not to have a care in the world are shown to have problems of one kind or another. The fact that they aren’t thrown in your face makes Son of Rambow all the better, leaving you with a clever, touching, and, yes, sweet little film. No need for sick bags here.
‘Son of Rambow’ is released in the UK on April 4.