Review: 'Submarine' is Wonderfully Twisted, Touching and Hilarious
by Ethan Anderton
May 24, 2011
While one might be pleased with the comedic stylings of Richard Ayoade on the British comedy series "The IT Crowd," his work behind the camera for his feature directorial debut with Submarine is also a treasure to behold. An adaptation of Joe Dunthorne's novel, this coming-of-age story follows Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) as he struggles to be the best boyfriend to his new girlfriend Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige) and also keep his parents' marriage from crumbling before his very eyes. And while the story feels familiar, it's Oliver's storytelling style and Ayoade's presentation of it that makes this film truly engaging.
Separated into three chapters, complete with a prologue and epilogue, the story is presented subjectively through the eyes of Oliver. Guiding us through his life by way of narration and a French New Wave style of storytelling (there's even a poster for Le Samourai on his wall), we only see Oliver as he sees himself. He daydreams of how his schoolmates would feel if he suddenly died, complete with reporters, crying students being interviewed and a candlelit vigil across Europe. And it's not surprising when Oliver specifically mentions certain film techniques like fading to black and zooming out (as opposed to pulling back) just to keep the audience aware that we're essentially watching Oliver's life story as directed by himself.
But the film's style really comes from director Richard Ayoade who has crafted a story that's not unlike a much lighter, teenage romance version of Taxi Driver (even Ayoade's use of color in titles between chapters call back to Martin Scorsese). It's clear that everything Oliver does, no matter how misguided, he thinks it's the best thing to do. But as we watch the events unfold, it's clear he has a lot to learn. His efforts to stop his father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) from drifting apart are sneaky, but they're certainly the work of a child who is inexperienced with relationships. But of course, much of the film's dark humor comes from his efforts to keep his mother's phony cosmic, spiritual guru of an ex-boyfriend and next door neighbor Graham (Paddy Considine) from making the situation worse.
And while talking about the French New Wave elements and such may make the film seem pretentious, at its core, Submarine is a quirky, coming-of-age teen romance. With a hint of Woody Allen and his neuroses, Wes Anderson's skewed characters and some flares of Hal Ashby's Harold and Maude, the film doesn't exactly feel realistic or grounded, but that doesn't make it any less touching or moving. Slowly but surely Oliver realizes that he's not in control of his own story, and it's around this point when it gets easier to identify with him as a person and not just a character.
The coming-of-age story has become a genre unto itself and it's difficult to bring something fresh to the table. However, Richard Ayoade has brilliantly adapted the source material both on the page and on screen to deliver a heartwarming, but twisted tale of growing up in England. And what makes the film so accessible, despite such a detached character like Oliver, is the story doesn't seem to take place in any specific time period. The mention of a certain comedy in the film could help date the setting, but the story almost seems to be timeless, where the characters exists with no reference to a world outside of their own, almost like Napoleon Dynamite (though this film, Submarine, is far superior in almost every way).
For his first feature film, Ayoade has outdone himself and crafted a fine future in filmmaking if he can keep making films like this. The performances he's pulled from the young leads, the dry comedy on display, and the unique drama that comes from being a teen trying to control your life as if it were a film combine to form a riveting coming-of-age tale that will pull at your heartstrings, but keep you in stitches. Submarine will make its way to theaters on June 3rd, so if it ends up in your neck of the woods, be sure to seek it out.
Ethan's Rating: 8.5 out of 10