Son of Rambow (**)
Son of Rambow is writer-director Garth Jennings’ cartoonish coming-of-age tale set in the 1980s, based loosely on his own forays as a youngster into amateur video filmmaking. His subject is little Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner), an odd one for the ’80s as Will is a member of the Plymouth Brethren—a cloistered evangelical sect that rejects the excesses of mainstream secular society and its popular culture. Presumably because of this enforced detachment, Will is a prolific daydreamer and creator; one day, while waiting outside class while other students watch a movie, he encounters troublemaker Lee Carter (Will Poulter). Lee rapidly immerses Will in heresy, among other things introducing him to First Blood, in which Will sees an inspiring, outsized male prototype to replace his recently deceased father. Lee soon recruits Will to help him finish one of his videos—a project that takes Will, and in turn his family, further away from the community in which they have found shelter.
Son of Rambow’s gushing, expressionist treatment of ’80s style is meant as a fun antidote to Will’s struggle: it’s the world of pop from a sheltered child’s point of view. Jennings has disregarded a lot of period-appropriate things in order to get at this candy-coated dynamism (at a school dance party, for instance, the kids play Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough,” which came out around the same time as First Blood, but they also play Siouxsie and the Banshees’ 1988 single “Peek-a-Boo”). Will and his family’s struggle is equally caricatured and thus short-changed; not once does Jennings have Will genuinely question the validity of the consumerism to which Lee has introduced him (surely at one point he would wonder if the simplicity and salvation offered by the Brethren weren’t more viable). And so, instead of being a novel compare-and-contrast between Will’s mind-based reveries and the kinds of creativity newly open to kids in the 1980s, Son of Rambow is yet another nostalgia trip—good for a bit of fun, and much more cute than acute.
Son of Rambow is now playing at the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.).