Fan Film, Fan Films

Son of Rambow Review

Son of Rambow—the indie movie about two pre-teen boys making a Rambo fan film in 1980s England—has been covered quite a bit on this blog, and it’s brought in about $524,000 to date, according to Variety.

Well, $11.75 of that was my hard-earned money (yes, that’s what it costs to see a movie in New York City these days—and no movie is worth that much, period). My take on the film, now that I finally saw it? It was fun, but you won’t miss anything by putting it in your Netflix queue instead of hitting the theaters (and you’ll definitely save a few bucks if you live in NYC).

On the surface, the story is pretty formulaic, as it follows two lonely boys at odds with their families as they become pals, make their movie, drift apart over creative differences as other kids get involved, and then become friends again. By that summary, it could be a candidate for the old ABC Afterschool Special series, but the acting and quality of filmmaking tends to save it. When things get too over-the-top cheesy, too, the filmmakers know it and play that as a joke for all it’s worth. As a result—and due to the 1980s references throughout the film—the cast may be comprised almost solely of kids, but the flick is definitely aimed at adults (although, other than a few stray curses and some fairly accurate bullying, there’s nothing here wildly inappropriate for children).

Particularly commendable are the fan filmmaking scenes, which are fantastic. They capture the giddy excitement and frustrating despair of amateur movie production, observing the agony of lugging equipment all over the place, the sweat and endless energy that it all requires, and then the interpersonal politics that come up when things aren’t going right. Visually, the film underlines this in clever, subtle ways; for instance, when the boys are shooting, their surroundings look enormous and gorgeous—but when you see the “video playback” of what they shot, everything becomes tiny and tinny, deftly denoting the experience of shooting versus the reality of what’s captured on tape.

Nonetheless, there’s some problems. Religion, as is the case in many movies about kids, is portrayed as an evil, repressive force, and while, yeah, it can often be exactly that, for all intents and purposes, its presence could’ve been replaced by merely strict parents. I’m not an especially religious person, but in movies these days, noting that a character is pious has become lazy shorthand for ‘he’s a mean, uptight jerk’—and that’s uncreative, and more importantly, simply unfair.

Also—and this is what really bugged me ’cause I’m a music geek—the film takes place in 1982, but uses pop music from all across the 1980s, like Nu Shooz’s “I Can’t Wait” (1987), Duran Duran’s “The Wild Boys” (1985), and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Peekabook” (1988). Gary Numan’s “Cars” (1979) gets trotted out (while they’re in a sports car—how on-the-nose can you get?), but it wouldn’t be on the radio by then. I’m not sure I heard any pop songs in the soundtrack that were actually from 1982.

All that aside, it’s a cute, lightweight film that truthfully aims to do nothing more than take you back in time and watch some kids have fun. There are weightier themes at play here, as irresponsible parenting and, as I mentioned before, religion get an oblique scolding, but the completion of their film inadvertently solves everything by mending both boys’ families. If viewers come away from the flick with nothing more than the messages that fan filmmaking is a good past-time and, gee, you should be nice to the people you care about, well, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to dig out my old vinyl 45 of “Peekaboo”—it’s been running around my head ever since I started this review!

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