The summer movie season is upon us, and you can break down the cinematic offerings into four categories:
1. Big-budget successes (often called "blockbusters")
2. Big-budget failures ("bombs" or "international blockbusters")
3. Low-budget successes (also known as "sleepers")
4. Low-budget nonstarters (maybe "future DVD sleepers")
Earlier this week I saw an advanced screening of Son of Rambow, a British film that may or may not become a sleeper. It's low on budget but high on concept: in the year 1982, schoolboy Will Proudfoot has grown up without a father and with the strict guidelines of the Plymouth Brethren movement. Even without exposure to television, music, and other forms of entertainment, he manages to hide an overactive and illustrative imagination. A chance meeting with Lee Carter, a school thief and bully whose own parents are absent, leads to a viewing of a pirated copy of First Blood (then in theaters).
With his first worldly exposure being the original adventures of Rambo, the boy's mind is warped and in visual overdrive. He concocts a story about being the son of "Rambow" -- the spelling isn't explained, but I have a feeling that the filmmakers didn't want to get sued* -- who has to rescue his imprisoned father from evil forces. Lee, interested in entering a youth filmmaking competition sponsored by the BBC, borrows his brother's videocamera and makes Will both protagonist and stuntman.
As the stunts get more outlandish, they catch the attention of a bizarre French exchange student and his local disciples. As the moviemaking crew expands, the sets and story get more elaborate but the boys' friendship gets more strained. And all the while Will tries to hide his secret life from his deeply religious community.
I'm not sure why the audience was full of families, because I suspect the younger children were bored. The film doesn't try to be accessible to American audiences, which I suppose is part of its charm, but it's really a movie designed for critics to love. It's cute and clever in places, and there's enough of a payoff to call it a crowd-pleaser eventually, but many viewers will have lost their patience before then. Go see it only if you're in the mood for something offbeat.
* The filmmakers later received Sylvester Stallone's blessing.