Submarine Film Review

SUBMARINE has been earning major praise since last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. The name of the director, Richard Ayoade (Moss from the IT Crowd), was a bit surprising. Whilst he has directed music videos for Vampire Weekend and television including Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place and Man to Man with Dean Learner, his film debut with Submarine is surprisingly good.

Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine takes place in 80’s (Crocodile Dundee reference) Swansea and focuses on a 15 yr old high-school kid named Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) who has two pressing concerns:

1.       Losing his virginity to red-coat wearing pyromaniac Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige);

2.      Saving the marriage of his parents.

Unfortunately, Jordana’s private life is facing upheaval and his mother (Sally Hawkins) and depressed father (Noah Taylor) are going through a difficult patch not helped by their neighbour, a smarmy spiritualist (Paddy Considine).

“We all believe we are individuals. That’s what gets us out of bed in the morning…” and the highly self-aware narrator, Oliver Tate, is someone so pretentious you either want to punch him or accept him as part of a pantheon of deluded characters who self-justify their actions whilst always failing to see their cruelty and selfishness.

Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate in Submarine

He is constantly scheming but when somebody comes out with a line like, “I’d like to think that my life is filmed by a film crew but at this rate, I won’t be able to afford a dolly shot and will have to settle for a zoom.” You have to admire their ambition.

Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate and Yasmin Paige as Jordana Bevan in Submarine

Actually, he’d fit into a Wes Anderson film perfectly (Ben Stiller is a producer). Whether that’s a good thing or not depends upon the audience but Craig Roberts plays him straight adding to the humour. The narration is consistently hilarious and delivered in a dead-pan manner which works well when the content of the words and images on screen are so outrageously disjointed because an objective camera undermines his grand schemes.

This film captures a boy’s awkward and yearning teenage life and sense of dislocation. Replace the posters of French New Wave films with Wong Kar-Wai and Takeshi Kitano and you have me. I recognised his panic from the brush of arms, furtive glancing and friends offering advice beyond their years and the panic when a girl takes notice…

And what a girl. Jordana is one of the more attractive romantic objects of attention in cinema.

Yasmin Paige as Jordana Bevan in Submarine

Walking around in her red coat, setting fire to things and generally being unromantic, she strikes a note of slightly twisted and enjoyable reality, batting away his absurdity whilst toying with him. It is fun seeing Oliver’s romantic notions wash up against her brusqueness – witness the first words she delivers to him when he opens the door to her on their big romantic night.  

Speaking as a cinephile, Submarine is one of the most technically interesting and enjoyable films I have seen since Scott Pilgrim. It deploys editorial and directorial techniques from a range of influences like French New Wave, using film language inventively as it melds super-8 footage, narration, intertitles, objective camera etc into a heady examination of the pathos, melancholy and hilarity of growing up.

Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate and Yasmin Paige as Jordana Bevan in Submarine

Whilst the soundtrack wasn’t to my taste, I’m sure that when I come to compile my list of films of 2011, Submarine will be in the top five because it has enough heart, humour, inventiveness and intelligence to outlast many others. Cinephiles’ can feast on Submarine, referencing the different directorial and editing techniques and regardless of technical fireworks the romance is unique enough to be memorable.

Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate and Yasmin Paige as Jordana Bevan in Submarine

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