Set during a long, idyllic English summer, Son of Rambow mischievously captures childhood obsessions with movies and TV, as well as the inventive recreation of onscreen action. It ends up being a kind of love letter to the movies - not the great movies, necessarily, but the ones that prompted you to wear out crappy VHS tapes while watching highlight scenes over and over. At times the film also has the feel of another icon of the 1980s, the cobbled-together mixtape, with individual ideas that aren't always stitched together in convincing fashion: the film reminded me of Hot Fuzz, so it wasn't a huge surprise to discover that director Garth Jennings had a credit on that film (of the "Thanks to" variety).
The film brings two school outcasts together: Lee Carter is a perennial troublemaker and Will Proudfoot is a skinny, shy boy who happens to be a member of a strict religious group that doesn't permit television and other such entertainments. Will, the younger of the pair, proves to be a willing participant in the madcap schemes of his new pal, and while there's a wonderful sequence where he runs through the fields high as a kite on his first exposure to the glory of the movies (in the form of Rambo's initial outing, First Blood), their friendship seems just a shade unlikely, so that when the bond is tested it's hard to feel entirely surprised. Jenning doesn't seem to fully explore the ramifications of Will's background, either: in England, it's an especially unusual upbringing, with something of the feel of an American sect (with a hint of the asceticism of the Scottish community in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves).
That said, the youthful performances are generally very strong, and often endearing: both leads are excellent, able to carry the film through occasionally sentimental moments, and the French actor Jules Sitruk is hilarious as an exchange student who develops a cult following from the moment he arrives at the boys' school. Even if patches of the film are uneven, Jennings proves generally adept at inhabiting the boys' worldview, full of fantasy as a means of escaping lives that are, for very different reasons, restrictive, while there's a tremendous affection in his half-spoofed, half-serious re-enactments of parts of Rambo - affection both for his characters and for his own early years as a movie fan.