Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Son of Rambow

Son of Rambow (Garth Jennings, 2008) Odd, quirky childhood comedy—how could it not be coming from the guy who made the movie of The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?  You have two kids—Will (Bill Milner) fatherless son of a strict religious mother (Jessica Hynes), and Lee Carter (Will Poulter), a wild, almost sociopathic kid with a little too much freedom (his parents are travelling, his brother—played by Ed Westwick—is a slacker who ignores him, except for the occasional punch-up).  The two kids couldn't be more different, but they're both kids occupying the same position downstream, stuck at the mouth of the river, at the bottom of the food-chain.  Will is eager to please and Lee is eager to please himself.  Pretty soon, Will is recruited to be a part of Lee's film making aspirations, playing stuntman in Lee's camcorder action filmThe stunts are horrifically dangerous, but God must be on Will's side because he bounces back faster than Wile E. Coyote.  Then, inspired by a bootleg copy of First Blood that Lee makes—it's sort of a side-job for his brother—Will turns himself into the "Son of Rambo," a fantasy persona that allows him to charge into the stunts with a macho brio far removed from his religious up-bringing.

It's an odd "coming-of-age" movie because the boys really don't come of age.  At most, their character arcs merely are glancing parabolas, where Will learns to become a little bit more of his own man and Lee finds out that, yeah...he's really not much in control of his life as he thinks.  They come to a separate peace, but it is not easy-going with the one seeing life as suddenly full of possibilities, and the other full of consequences.

I got a lot of raised eyebrows and curled lips mentioning this movie for the perception is that its an homage to the testosteromps of the Stallone era (amusingly, the clips that are used from First Blood are the same ones over and over), but it couldn't be more different—for one thing, Son of Rambow actually has a sense of humor (which, I believe, is one of the casualties of steroid use).  The other is that the Stallone movies are essentially retellings of the "Frankenstein" myth*—the ostracising of "the Other."  Will and Lee are, instead, learning how to cope in a society, rather than fighting it, and there are a lot of nice touches about the "herd" instinct of individuals that gets down to some primal stuff more akin to the forests and jungles that are Rambo's survivalist killing grounds.

But, in the end, they do have one thing in common—it's about survival.  And the Son and progenitor approach the goal in completely different ways.  Nicely thought out.  Nicely done.

* Kirk Douglas was in talks to play the Trautman part (that eventually went to Richard Crenna), but when he heard that Rambo was going to survive, turned his back on the project: "He has to die.  It's the 'Frankenstein' story."  Exactly.  And Rambo's plight is far more poignant if he has been trained to be a killing machine and isn't allowed to live by the very government that created him.   As with the Vietnam conflict, the U.S. is complicit in the tragedy—setting up a bad situation and then walking away from it.  Instead, Rambo is allowed to live, and no amount of sentimental Stallone re-writes can be as powerful as what should have been.  Also, in Hollywood's dream factory franchise potential trumps story. 

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