On May 2, 2008 a smaller, British-made film named Son of Rambow debuted on a few hundred screens around the country. That same day a not-as-small, American-made film named Iron Man was released on a few thousands screens.
Needless to say Son of Rambow – which made a modestly successful $10 million (as opposed to Iron Man’s $300+ million) – never developed much visibility. Which is too bad, because the movie is very, very good.
Son of Rambow is the story of two 1980s British schoolchildren – Will and Lee – who use a camcorder to film their own sequel of the movie Rambo: First Blood.
Will is the byproduct of a religious household so strict and overbearing he’s required to leave his public school classroom anytime a movie is shown. But Will is an artist, whose creative gifts disrupt the otherwise uninspired reality of his everyday life. This comes to a head the day he sees his first movie, Rambo, and a torrent of imaginative ideas are unleashed.
Lee has grown up with no one but his dismissive, borderline-abusive older brother to look after him, and so he passes the time by shoplifting, smoking, and videotaping movies in the theater and then selling them. How Will and Lee meet, and the movie gets made, and the friendship evolves… I wouldn’t want to spoil any of it. Half the pleasure of this movie is watching the world unfold through their eyes.
But the bond that ties these two kids together – and what makes the movie so powerful – is that they’ve both grown up without a father to help them learn how to interact with the world around them. Will and Lee, in very different ways, are outsiders, incapable of belonging. Making the movie is, for both of them, a way to grapple with the hole that an absentee dad left in their lives.
But even in saying this, it’s hard to explain why I reacted so strongly to the movie. Maybe it’s because I remember the hours I spent as a kid playing with my G.I. Joes, creating elaborate backstories and plot developments and worlds in which they lived. Or maybe it’s because of how true Will and Lee’s sense of social alienation, and slowly emerging friendship felt.
All I know is that by the end of this movie I was deeply invested in the lives of these two kids – so much so that I was able to overlook some last act developments that didn’t quite ring true. And I think it’s a movie that will resonate with teenagers too. While Son of Rambow has its moral issues – Jesus’ name is abused a few times and the movie takes a generally dim view of religion in general – this movie radiates some deep truths about integrity, friendship, sacrifice, the shallowness of popularity, and the reminder that everyone is hurting in their own way.
Does that sound a bit cliché? I suppose it probably is. But the movie has just enough freshness and honest emotion in it that it sidestepped the cynical side of me. And while I can’t recommend a youth pastor show this after a Wednesday night service, it might be worth inviting a few students over to watch it out your house. There will definitely be plenty to discuss.
Son of Rambow was released on DVD Aug. 29 and is rated PG-13 – although it’s a very tame PG-13. You should be able to find it at any major movie rental chain.
Josh Pease – NOT Josh Treece – works for the high school team at Saddleback Church and used to pretend he was a member of the X-Men on the playground behind his house. Feel free to email him with any thoughts/suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.