Son of Rambow, 12A
Awake, 15

You don't have to have been a 10-year-old in 1982 – or even a Stallone fan – to fall for this bittersweet nostalgic comedy

You know you're old when you start seeing films about the period of your own childhood, and they look as if they're set in a distant, enchanted era. I'm sad to report that it's happening to me. Last year there was This Is England, and now there's Son of Rambow, which takes place in an unnamed town in 1982 – although it could be decades earlier, as far as the 10-year-old Will Proudfoot (Bill Milner) is concerned. His family belongs to the Plymouth Brethren, a Christian sect which forbids access to cinema, television, records or radio, so Will even has to sit in the corridor when his teacher puts on a documentary about the wheel: "Man's greatest invention ... but the greatest bringer of death!"

Will's polar opposite, Lee Carter (Will Poulter) is a fast-talking cockney wide boy who doesn't just watch films, but sells pirate copies of them too. One afternoon, while blithely exploiting his innocent schoolmate, Lee exposes Will to his first ever movie: Sylvester Stallone's First Blood. Will, who's never witnessed such an orgy of gore and violence, is naturally delighted. Until now, he's had to vent his buzzing imagination by doodling multicoloured monsters all over his Bible, so he leaps at the chance of making a sequel to the Rambo film with Lee's video camera, and entering their mis-spelt masterpiece in the BBC's Screen Test competition.

It doesn't take the boys long to realise what they have in common. Will's dad has died, leaving his mum (Jessica Hynes) to raise the family by herself, as warmly as she can within the Plymouth Brethren's strict, sometimes sinister boundaries. Meanwhile, Lee Carter (to use his full name, as his admiring pal always does) has something missing from his home life. His parents live in Spain, so Lee is stuck in the care of a joy-riding big brother who expects to have his breakfast cooked. The boys find that they're kindred spirits. But even 10-year-olds can have creative differences, especially when their definition of what's cool is suddenly blown away by a French exchange student (Jules Sitruk) who gets his fashion sense from Adam Ant.

It's a risky business to make a film that wholly depends on child actors. Even the Harry Potter series has tripped up on their variable quality, so kudos to the casting agents who tracked down Son of Rambow's excellent double act. Poulter is a self-assured Artful Dodger with spot-on comic timing, Milner disappears into the role of an eager naïf, and the chemistry between them is perfect. Kudos, too, to Garth Jennings, the writer/director, for recognising that a film about children doesn't have to be childish. Son of Rambow derives from his own memories of attempting a youthful First Blood remake, so the film has all the offbeat authenticity of a true story as it looks back with nostalgic mockery at the pre-internet Eighties.

It's a Britain of endless meadows, and of classrooms where the sun is always shining through a window and turning the dust in the air into a golden haze. But it's also a Britain where cinemas are full of smokers, where mobile phones are big and stereos are bigger, and where a schoolboy's most prized possession is a rubber – or eraser, for our American readers – that "smells like real cake". It's a love letter to the days of Grange Hill circa Tucker Jenkins, and to Gregory's Girl, which was released in 1981, and which must have been on Jennings' DVD player constantly while he was preparing Son of Rambow.

At its best, his bittersweet comedy is as accurate and piercing as one of Rambo's arrows, which is why it's so frustrating when it veers off-target towards the end. Instead of telling us why Lee is so intent on getting on Screen Test, or exploring why some people might prefer a life of prayer to a life of running around a forest wearing a bandanna, Son of Rambow loses faith in its premise. It shoehorns in a car crash, a collapsing building, and a death-defying rescue – as if the story needed some real-life danger when it was doing so well with the boys' pretend adventures.

What's even stranger is that there's no explanation of who exactly the Plymouth Brethren are. For that matter, there's no explanation of what Screen Test is, which could be an obstacle for viewers who aren't of Jennings' (and my) generation. Much of the film's last half hour is too bitty to be involving, but even at its low points Son of Rambow still has the energy and individuality of a passion project. With the gleefully over-the-top jokes of a live-action Wallace and Gromit, and an uplifting ending which wins back the goodwill it squandered, it should bring a tear to the eye of most viewers, or most viewers who are a similar age to Jennings, anyway.

Another film by a British writer-director, Awake stars Hayden Christensen as the billionaire heir to a New York corporation – but he's one of those noble billionaires who are always "creating jobs and saving companies", as well as giving away a fortune to charity every year. No one could wish any harm on such a paragon, and certainly not his doe-eyed fiancée (Jessica Alba), his doting mother (Lena Olin) or his surgeon buddy (Terrence Howard). And yet, thanks to a faulty anaesthetic, Christensen remains conscious but paralysed while he's having a heart transplant, and he's sufficiently composed to work out that someone's trying to murder him.

For the first half of Awake, it's merely a bad film: dull, daft, and saddled with a leading man who acts as if he's under anaesthetic at the best of times. But if you stay awake long enough, it becomes a Bad Film, a juicy turkey stuffed with so many bonkers plot twists and so much dumb dialogue that it becomes weirdly tasty. You have to admit, there's a certain brilliant wrongness to the idea of a thriller hero who can't move a muscle.

Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’


Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'


Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from


Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Arts and Entertainment


These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London