(Richard Ayoade, 2010, UK)
Marking the blistering cinematic debut of Richard Ayoade, best known for his role as nerdy Maurice Moss in TV’s The IT Crowd, Submarine is an idiosyncratic coming of age tale of one teenagers journey through frustrating adolescence, first love and domestic disillusionment, starring a superb cast and a deft balance of self-reflexive humour and poignant melancholia, set in a wispy, unspecified Swansea.
Relative newcomer Craig Roberts plays Oliver Tate, a distant, duffel coat-wearing, dictionary reading outcast trapped between the stringent expectations of adolescence and his insufferable thirst for maturity, who, upon meeting Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a fractionally more popular recluse with pyromaniac tendencies, becomes head over heels in love. Once his modest approaches to wooing her prove somewhat successful, this newfound taste of victory inspires the self-important Oliver to go about mending his parents worn marriage, and stopping his mother falling back into the arms of a conceited self-help ‘ninja’, played with oafish charm by a mulleted Paddy Considine.
As debut features come, this is a remarkable achievement. Ayoade directs with the same opportunistic enthusiasm one usually finds with first time filmmakers, imbuing his film with as much visual flair, narrative consciousness and technical appreciation as possible, with each scene clearly demonstrating a keen cinematic understanding and consideration of the filmmaking process, playing fast and loose with subjectivity and objectivity. Additionally, the use of an unreliable narrator is used to strong effect; Oliver, as if apparently aware of his own filmic presence, guides the audience through his life and inner turmoil, expressing his disappointment with the world around him and, in one comical scene, envisaging an exaggerated version of the upset felt by not only his friends and family, but Wales as a whole, following his untimely death. It is a fantastic early scene, one that demonstrates the comedic aptitude that Ayoade manages to maintain throughout the film, even through its more sober second half, or as the film is arranged, third chapter.
It can be argued that Ayoade shares the same zany kineticism as an on-form Wes Anderson, channelling but never emulating his knack for presenting situations which are as weird and socially awkward as the protagonists. Further jewels in Submarine’s crown is its strong casting, blending watchable young actors with a rich triangle of mature talent in Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor, who play Oliver’s parents, and the previously mentioned Considine, who relishes his small but significant role. Hawkins displays an entirely different penchant for comedy than previously witnessed in Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky; here she plays the understanding, silently unfulfilled but warm-hearted matriarch with a jagged edge, a mother who would much rather berate her peculiar son instead of exploring the reasons for his awkward despair.
The adults in Ayoade’s film, and indeed the novel of the same name on which it is based, are vital functions within the story, and are not brushed off as mere supporting players to the central narrative and its progression. Additionally, Noah Taylor underplays his role as the weary, constantly down in the dumps father to perfection, and even though his role requires him to do very little physically, Craig Roberts fills Oliver’s loafers with considerable ease, a watchable embodiment of a jaded protagonist, with shades of the suicidal outcast Harold in cult hit Harold and Maude.
It is small but notable details, like the hand drawn portrait of Woody Allen that adorns the pin board next to Oliver’s bed, and rich but unobtrusive periodical elements that add to the brilliance of Ayoade’s cinematic introduction, which combines a winningly off-kilter style of storytelling with a charming narrative, ensuring that Submarine is a rare and refreshing British treat.