Directed by Garth Jennings
Garth Jennings is a destined for greatness but he just hasn’t quite got there yet. As part of the creative duo, Hammer and Tongs, he’s been responsible for such brilliant clips as R.E.M’s ‘Imitation of Life’, Blur’s ‘Coffee and TV’, Travis’ ‘Driftwood’ and Vampire Weekend’s ‘A-Punk’. His first feature was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which was ultimately a disappointment but had occasional moments of coolness: the opening musical number, the casting, the puppets. The problem was that the film ended up so awfully conventional but this was something I was willing to blame on studios who had entrusted a big budget and a potentially big name franchise in a first-time feature director. Son of Rambow shouldn’t have any of those problems – it’s a small budget, intimate film about kids with big imaginations. Coming out of the cinema, I think I proved myself only half right.
There is very cool stuff in this movie. Jennings pulls out all the stops to create for the audience what it is like to be inside these kid’s imaginations using all kinds of animation and special effects. The Rambo movie that the kids end up making is also extremely charming in exactly the same way that the home-made videos of Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind were. The early ’80s period setting complete with The Cure playing in the background is ace. The very best part of the film however is the French exchange student Didier who for the most part has nothing to do with the central characters’ story at all. Who cares if his only purpose is to provide an awkward subplot? He’s a freaking presence on the screen. Look out for a special scene where Didier infiltrates the grade six common room, full of primary school level debauchery and ignites a spontaneous dance sequence.
Then there are just plain weird decisions like how the central character lives with the Exclusive Brethren. It’s an unconventional plot point but it’s also pretty pointless.
Despite all the coolness on display, the film didn’t quite reach that level of greatness that I feel Jennings can achieve. Part of the problem is that the friendship is fairly hard to believe. A major problem is that Garth Jennings really doesn’t seem to have a knack for directing actors. The scenes generally come off as quite mannered.
I made a comparison to Michel Gondry’s Be Kind Rewind earlier and it’s hard not to. Both films are about misfits who discover a love of filmmaking and make rough, homemade remakes of their favourite Hollywood movies. Be Kind Rewind is definitely the better movie because its central theme of grassroots culture battling the forces of capitalism ties everything together. Son of Rambow is a bunch of cool scenes in search of a theme.