***originally written 5 April 2011***
Directed by Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh) and based on a book by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine takes a look at life in small-town Wales for the awkward, somewhat bookish Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts). The movie feels strangely antiquated, lost in a non-specific era in which people watch VHS tapes and there’s narry a mobile phone in sight (i.e it’s possibly set in the late 80s / early 90s). Exactly when the film is set is irrelevant however. Small towns like the ones depicted here never change, and this timelessness not only reinforces the dreary redundancies of small-town life, but also compliments the universal nature of Oliver’s outsider story. A lot of people are going to relate to this kid’s teenage angst. I certainly did.
Oliver’s main concerns are his infatuation with local girl Jordana (Yasmin Page) and his ever-growing fear that his mother is going to have an affair with a mulleted Paddy Considine, clearly relishing the role of a local self-help guru and ninconpoop. If it thus far sound like the tame bread and butter of low-budget indie fare, then, well… tough. It is. However Ayoade comes to the project armed with a great script and clear ambition to carve something interesting (if not totally original) out of this cloth.
I’ve heard Ayoade called ‘the British Wes Anderson’ a few times in relation to Submarine, and yes, there are traces of Anderson’s formal-yet-twee stylings on display here, from the type-face and presentation of the credits to some of the overtly flat, scrolling shots (particularly one following Oliver as he walks beside a swimmingpool). But Submarine is not simply someone making The Welsh Tenenbaums. Not to discredit Ayoade from having his own sensibilities, but you can clearly tell he’s taken lessons from a number of other great contemporaries. Everyone from Spike Jonze and Edgar Wright to David O Russell and even David Lynch (all those fades to colours of the rainbow are very Wild At Heart). If this means that he has yet to fully develope his own unique cinematic eye, it at least shows he’s taking his cues from the finest around.
Performance-wise, nearly everyone is on form. Craig Roberts is a wonderful discovery as Oliver Tate, and manages to easily carry the movie. Likewise, Yasmin Paige manages to make Jordana believable whilst also managing to sucessfully dodge most of the cliches of the object-of-affection role. Thank god she didn’t have to be ‘sassy’. And last but by no means least, a huge tip of the hat to Noah Taylor, who makes Oliver’s dad sad, pathetic, but brilliant. Quietly, gloomily stealing every scene he’s in. Only Oliver’s mother (Sally Hawkins) disappoints, looking as she does throughout as though she’s about to corpse, making the character seem smug and awkward. Though as she is the closest the movie has to a villain, perhaps that’s all the better.
Submarine is a comedy, but it is frequently a comedy of uncomfortable squirms more than played-straight gags. Like teenage life it also is imbued with it’s fair share of sadness, playing out like the movie of some unwritten Belle & Sebastian song, and only narrowly avoids ending on a downer. Conversely, it is this optimistic final note that rings the least true, but then the alternative is a 100 minute movie about getting disappointed. And who really wants that?
More than anything, Submarine marks Ayoade out as a filmmaker, and one primed to become beloved by awkward teens of all ages. Do yourself a favour and get in at the ground floor before he gets swallowed up in Hollywood nonsense.