Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige
Genre: Drama, coming of age
Runtime: 97 minutes
WI's Rating: 8.1
It tells the story of Oliver Tate who is caught at the junction between childhood and adulthood as he struggles with his first feelings of love, desire, heartbreak and must choose what path he wishes to take that'll define who he is for the rest of his life. Tate (Craig Roberts), a strange, intelligent and unnervingly confident schoolboy who falls for an equally strange girl Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a sarcastic, chain-smoking femme fatale with a bit of a pyromaniac who hates anything romantic. After an incident which sees Oliver reluctantly participate in a spot of casual bullying that causes a girl to fall into a muddy pond, Oliver and Jordana begin their unusual romance. All seems to be going well until Oliver suspects his mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) of having an affair with cheesy self-help guru Graham (Paddy Considine), who lives next door. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is so passive and uncaring that he is practically a zombie, and so Oliver takes it upon himself to rescue his parent's broken marriage whilst holding his own fragile relationship together.
Jordana contrasts heavily against Oliver's intellectualism, not as a ditsy bimbo but a self-confident every-girl. Outspoken but no revolutionary, fits-in but isn't popular and isn't gorgeous. She's a cute, average girl. She is equally naïve as Oliver when it comes to sex, but she has the self-confidence to keep things into perspective. She doesn't like romance yet is too young to have been romanced; make-up is minimal with half-polished fingernails; she doesn't use complex sentences to convey her unique traits in the eyes of Oliver. Because of this, Oliver's infatuation with her is earnest, her heartbreak in the final act has weight and their intimacy is adorably off-centre.
It may sound somewhat similar to all the coming-of-age stories that have hit the cinema recently, but what makes Submarine so special is Richard Ayoade's ability to capture the essence of growing up; the joy, the optimism and the tenderness alongside all the angst, confusion and depression too. I defy anyone to not see themselves plastered up on that silver screen in the film's opening as Oliver fantasises about the adoration and attention he'd receive if he died.
This is a sharply observed black comedy and coming of age story, built from great energy and a script that is brimming with clever details. The centrepiece of this film is the creation of this bizarre, nosey and self-absorbed teenager. And what a clever creation Oliver Tate is. He's such a fun character and a perfect vessel for the film's entirely quirky and very cynical dialogue. The hysterical opening vision of students lighting candles in remembrance of his hypothetical death perfectly visualises the bizarre and hilarious mind of this egotistical and obsessive protagonist. That was one of the most unexpected, original moments and that made me laugh a lot. There are so many quotable lines and memorable little quirks, like the way Oliver measures his parent's love life by how much they've turned the light switch, or when he describes his pipe and hat phases. It can gently nudge everyday life for people in this community. I love all the attention Ayoade applies to all of his characters, not just the protagonist. Lloyd is, for example, a biologist who remembers random facts like the exact depth of the ocean and in the family dining room you'll notice the huge fish tank. There's also a funny moment where Oliver remembers his dad spoiling every Christmas by saying what the presents are before someone has unwrapped them. All of the jokes here are smart because they have the purpose of building character.
The tone the film goes for is similar to Wes Anderson films and French New Wave but it still comes off as felling rather fresh. The use of title cards, inner monologue and a smart lead are all used very well and actually lead to a fair share of fun scenes. The unusual use of colour, frequent cuts and shifting narrative all come together to give the film a quirky style and in some ways reflect Oliver's different view upon the world itself. The film is also shot beautifully. The gorgeous views of beaches and far away scenery are great to view, while the views of intimacy and school life are shown with great understanding. Especially good is were Oliver imagines his romance on a super 8 tape, which is a very witty idea and quite striking to see. Ayoade does a fantastic job of capturing the teenage feelings of tenderness, fun, love, sadness and angst too. The chemistry between Roberts and Paige is also excellent and feels normal, you understand why they would like each other despite differences. The music is superb, the songs by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner are very delicate and soft but packed with feeling that fits the film perfectly.
The ups and downs of this British comedy are mainly due to Ayoade's wonderful screenplay and direction that are touching yet never slip into sentimentality - he often playfully pokes fun at it in many cases – but what also deserves credit are the poignant score by Arctic Monkey's singer Alex Turner, the cinematography that effortlessly shifts between comic framing and beautiful imagery and the note-perfect performances by the entire cast.