Son of Rambow/The Fall

starring Bill Milner and Will Poulter
written and directed by Garth Jennings
Rated PG-13 for some violence and reckless behavior.

Will Proudfoot (Milner) is a sheltered young member of the Plymouth Brethren with a wild imagination. Lee Carter (Poulter) is the school troublemaker. A fateful meeting in the hall (where Lee has been exiled from his class and Will is waiting out the watching of a documentary which he is not allowed to see) leads the two to form a tenuous friendship. Before long, Lee has enlisted Will to help make a short film for a BBC contest, and Will, inspired by his clandestine screening of a bootleg copy of just-released Rambo: First Blood, already has a story in mind.

starring Catinca Untaru & Lee Pace
written by Dan Gilroy, Nico Soultanakis & Tarsem Singh and directed by Tarsem Singh
Rated R for some violent images.

In the early days of moving pictures, Alexandria (Untaru), a young immigrant girl who has broken her arm while picking oranges with her family, and Roy (Pace), a stuntman with a broken back and a broken heart, befriend each other in the hospital. Roy, sensing an opportunity, beguiles Alexandria with an epic story of romance and revenge starring an eclectic mix of characters and events drawn loosely from their surroundings. In return, he hopes to convince her to steal him enough morphine to end his misery permanently, but things don’t go exactly as he expects.

Son of Rambow is a hilarious coming-of-age comedy and The Fallis surreal, visually-rich drama, but they are not as different as they might seem. Superficially, both involve unconventional friendships between characters who fill voids in each others’ lives, moviemaking and crazy stunts that lead to hospital visits. On a deeper level, both are about the power that crafting and telling stories can have over our lives.

The Fall, more than anything, is a bravura technical display of pure moviemaking skill. It begins with a silent, black-and-white segment of something which we will not understand until later on, but which is so beautifully-shot that it doesn’t matter. In fact, the film would be worth seeing (with or without sound) even if its only positive attribute was the stunning visuals. To be honest, both of the stories it tells are a little bit lacking (though enjoyable), and the climax is extremely overwrought. But what the filmmakers have accomplished and how they accomplished it, eschewing computer-generated effects in favor of more conventional tricks of photography and design. The film ends with a lovely montage of some of the greatest stunts from old silent films; a tribute to the days when filmmakers were limited by courage and ingenuity as well as imagination (not entirely different from the situation of the boy filmmakers in Son of Rambow, in fact).

Everything about the production is gorgeous and captivating, even when the story itself is not quite up to the daunting task of being worthy of its surroundings (it almost seems unfair to demand that it should be).  One scene transitions from a close-up of a beautiful blue butterfly tacked to a deep-blue background with a white pin to a small island of white sand surrounded by butterfly-shaped area of light blue shallows set amidst the deeper blue of the surrounding ocean. The transition is accomplished with such seamless subtlety that it takes the viewer a few seconds to realize that the butterfly is no longer on the screen. The result is breath-taking (an apt term for how I felt about most of the film, in fact).

The filmmakers scoured the entire planet for striking locations to use. The Fall was shot in nearly 20 countries and 6 continents around the globe. The natural and man-made beauty paraded across the screen in virtually every scene made me wish for a guidebook. I don’t know where most of these places are, but I am grateful to the movie for transporting me to them so memorably.

Son of Rambow is less about a display of skill (though it is excellent, particularly the music) and more about depicting passion for making movies; of believing in a story so completely that one is compelled to put it into action and preserve the result for posterity. It is a passion that I have known (with strikingly similar results), and its portrayal here is as touching and heart-felt as it is funny.

There is some prodigious talent from the young actors on display in these movies. The two main characters in Son of Rambow are convincing and incredibly funny, particularly Milner’s Will Proudfoot. Will is a sweet kid, and obviously talented and creative, but also very impressionable. Watching Rambo at work in possibly the first movie he has ever seen wakes something up inside of him, and he’ll never be the same again (an experience most longtime movie fans will probably have shared at some point in their childhood). He rushes out once the movie is over (leaving Lee completely baffled) and runs screaming through open country, throwing punches at the air and imitating the noise of machine guns firing. His active imagination has clearly been kicked into overdrive.

Will and Lee are both outcasts in their own way. No one likes Lee because he is, frankly, obnoxious, but Will is too selfless to notice or care. Will is simply too strange to have any friends, but Lee is disarmed by his innocence and his giving nature. This may be a comparison that is better left unmade, but Son of Rambow is in some ways the film that Napoleon Dynamite ought to have been. Both are funny, quirky stories about  eccentric outcasts, but Son of Rambow features actual character growth (and depth) and a certain irresistible charm that the other lacks. In the end, of course, their struggle to bring to life on film the story they have dreamed together enriches both of their lives immeasurably. And if the resulting ending is a bit too pat and “feel-good,” that is what we want it to be.

Alexandria is also a character with a rich imagination, though we are probably not meant to believe that it is quite as rich as the visuals The Falltreats us to. Untaru’s performance as Alexandria (her first appearance in a movie) may well be one of the most realistic portrayals of childhood I have ever seen in a movie. Her conversations with Roy are often rambling, random and confusing to both of them. She lacks the unnatural (and often off-putting) precociousness displayed by many child actors when their characters are meant to be cute and endearing.

Part of what makes her relationship with Roy so interesting is that she is not trying to lead him out of his depression. She doesn’t even know that he is depressed; she is merely a little girl who wants someone to pay attention to her and tell her a story. There is a great scene where Alexandria steals a handful of communion wafers from the hospital chapel before heading to Roy’s room for the next segment of the ongoing adventure. She offers one to Roy, who eats it solemnly and then asks her, “Are you trying to save my soul?” A typically confusing conversation ensues, and it becomes clear that Alexandria is not even familiar with the words “soul” or “Eucharist.” She was just sharing a snack with a friend, but that does not keep her from being an unwitting agent of grace in Roy’s life, nonetheless. Moments like this manage to raise the film (at least occasionally) above the level of pure spectacle.

~ by Jared on May 31, 2008.

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