Since the invention of the home video camera, 12-year olds across the globe have spent their summer holidays lovingly recreating their favourite films with bored friends from down the road. Many have used this formative experience to go on to become noted filmmakers witness Steven Spielbergs epic 40-minute war movie Escape to Nowhere, filmed at the tender age of 15 while millions of others have extensive pastiches of Back to the Future, Star Wars and Predator 2 hidden away on neatly-labelled VHS tapes in the attic.
Garth Jennings, director of 2005s better-than-expected Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Blurs Coffee and TV dancing milk-carton video, is a man that remembers these seminal childhood moments well. As the director, producer and supporting actor in a homemade skit on the first Rambo outing, First Blood, Jennings interest in film was piqued and, 20 year or so on, he has turned this experience into one of the most charming, tender and downright hilarious movies about growing up in Britain in recent times.
Son of Rambow centres on Will Proudfoot, a fatherless 12-year old boy growing up in the strict confines of religious sect The Plymouth Brethren. As the long, hot summer of 1980 drags around him, and without any real access to the modern world (one teacher throws him out of geography class every time he want to show a video: Youre not allowed to watch TV, are you?), Wills fertile imagination begins to run amok. However, he only finds an outlet after a chance encounter with spoilt delinquent Lee Carters bootleg copy of First Blood.
Before long he is a willing participant in Lee Carters planned remake of the film on home video, and what follows is a wonderful coming-of age drama that invokes aching belly-laughs of recognition among any audience members over the age of 20. Never before have sherbet dips, new romantic hairstyles and French exchange students been bathed in so much loving nostalgia. Garth Jennings eye for detail is spot-on he gently mocks but never descends into all-out parody. There is a huge amount of heart behind this, no more so than in the time that is invested in the development of the two young leads.
Jennings real success here is the casting of young unknowns Bill Milner (Proudfoot) and Will Poulter (Carter) in the two main roles, who carry off the boundless enthusiasm of kids with a video camera with aplomb. Poulter especially, as the rich but unloved Lee Carter, is a revelation all swaggering bravado until his pride is undone by the cool French exchange student Didier who threatens to take over his project in a fog of Gauloise. Milner looks like he had the most fun during the filming his conversion from brainwashed cult member to all-action hero of the titular short film is utterly charming, and his range of seemingly superhuman stunts during the first days of shooting would border on the ridiculous if it wasnt for the innate enthusiasm that sparks off the screen whenever he and Poulter are given the opportunity to spool the VHS tape.
The film never strives for gritty realism one standout scene is an evocation of the hallowed sixth form common-room as a kind of fantastical Boogie Nights-style Studio 54 nightclub, a perfect counterpoint with last years coarse This Is England, set around the same period. Add to this some pretty OTT action scenes and you have a film that could have been made by a group of over-enthusiastic video directors (something not too far from the truth) rather than the next Ken Loach. However, the film wears its fantastical heart on its sleeve, and an audience who arrive wanting to be charmed will leave the cinema with a grin on their face usually reserved for only the best Pixar films.
Some things dont work as well as they could Jennings fondness for visual gags mean that the uber-chic Didier is pushed to the forefront through a middle act that sags under the weight of its own slapstick humour. Although watching him strut about while being fawned over by a legion of admiring schoolkids will have you in stitches (thanks in part to a comic tour-de-force by his awkward ginger host, one which seems to have gone unnoticed by most reviewers) it detracts from Lee and Wills storyline to such an extent that the climactic scene is almost unintentionally wrenched from the leads grasp.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Wills upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren is painted with too broad a brush, and the reasons behind his mother (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson of Spaced fame, in an underdeveloped role) leading a frugal existence while mourning her husband are never convincingly explained. Yet these are not faults that fatally flaw the film Son of Rambow still delights, enchants and amuses more than any British film since Shaun of the Dead.
It is a delicious irony that Son of Rambow comes so hot on the heels of Sylvester Stallones hysterical retooling of the tired franchise that the children ape so lovingly here. While Jennings evocation of a childhood spent re-enacting Rambos adventures breaths fresh new life into our understanding of the films of our childhood, Stallone should have left well alone. Perhaps next time he should take a Betamovie camera, some bows and arrows and a couple of fans into the jungle and let them shoot from the hip. You never know, one day one of them could grow up to be the next Garth Jennings.