Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fantastic Fest: Garth Jennings' SON OF RAMBOW

Is there any other genre of film more reviled than the "feel good" movie? Probably not. About 90% of the feel good movies that come out (and sadly, it's a flourishing genre) are pretty much LCD kinda movies, films made more for those who want to take the kids to see something without being embarrassed than for anyone who actually wants to leave a theater feeling good about themselves and society in general. They're basically stories about someone (be it a human or an animal or a human with an animal) overcoming adversity in one form or another and they're more often than not pretty god damn awful. Hooray, we've won the big game or saved the teen dance center or whatever! I could honestly care less.

But sometimes, it has to be said, those kind of pictures do work. It isn't easy, but when they do, it's incredibly impressive. Who knew ROCKY BALBOA was going to turn out as well as it did? I mean, what an awesome movie that was, let me tell you. And it worked soooooooo fucking well that it almost single-handily wiped away the memories of ten years of awful Stallone movies (save for COPLAND); on top of all that, it made you feel good, because like the original film, it had a back story to it, of Stallone's own struggle to retain his self-respect as much as it is for the lead character's. Those feel good movies that work do so mainly because these characters are ones that you can relate to whose struggles are often ones you yourself can identify with. So a Fantastic Fest screening of Garth Jennings' SON OF RAMBOW, a film about two U.K. pre-teens who desperately want to make their own sequel to FIRST BLOOD circa 1983 would seem to have a theater full of folks who would identify with the characters than most regular audiences would. But even thought that seems like an easy score, the fact is that SON OF RAMBOW earns its warm, fuzzy, upbeat feelings due more to solid storytelling skills than just playing for an easy crowd. Pretty much anyone can like this one.

The first thing about that helps make SON OF RAMBOW work is that the emotions feel genuine. The set-up sounds a lot like several other movies (two kids, often ostracized by those around them, are missing father figures in their lives and need someone, especially a friend, to help fill that void) but Jennings (who also wrote the script and based it on his own experiences) wisely doesn't sugarcoat it or try to pander too much to the audience. While the film is ultimately sweet, it doesn't get there by having everyone be happy all the time; the characters are flawed and a bit neurotic (they're kids, after all) and believable, for both the period and the way kids behave. I was especially pleased in how SON OF RAMBOW was really more a film about these two kids and not a movie about how great the early 80s were. It isn't some sentimental fanboy movie (which it easily could have been), it's just a comedy and its subject matter just happens to be two kids who want to make a Rambo movie and escape their drab lives, and trust me, that's very commendable. The film is also quite funny (always a plus, never a minus), especially in a subplot with a French exchange student who becomes the most popular student in school and worms his way into the Rambo film. And the two leads, Bill Milner and Will Pulter, are both terrific, each of them charming, funny and completely winning and they really make the movie. Also endearing it to me was how it didn't trivialize the Rambo character; as the film takes place before the release of the second film (where he went from "John Rambo" to just "Rambo") he's looked upon as more of a movie hero than the (admittedly really fun) cartoon character he was to become. I liked that.

So oddly enough, SON OF RAMBOW, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year, won't be hitting screens either here or abroad until May of 2008. Obviously the release of Stallone's better-be-good-if-he-knows-what's-good-for-him RAMBO this January is having a say in that, but I can't help but think that a few year-end awards might be in the offering if they were to get it out earlier, but what's done is done, I guess, so you're all stuck waiting 7 months to enjoy this. I plan to lord that over all of you until then.

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