Published: June 15, 2011
Directed by Richard Ayoade
Submarine is a lovely little meditation on being a teen. Nothing at all wrong with it, but it feels a bit underwhelming as summer’s frenzy of big movies grab our heat-melted attention and keep it. This debut feature, helmed by British television actor/director Richard Ayoade (who also directed the most intelligent and entertaining episode of Community yet, “Critical Film Studies”) and based on Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 debut novel of the same name, is just what it is: a perfectly clever, funny, and touching coming of age story featuring an original soundtrack by the Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner. It’s “Sundance” fine—a harmless bit of better-than-Hollywood cinema that won’t bore you, but gets close to doing nothing more than offering a pleasant diversion for 90 minutes.
Still, the actors are wonderfully cast. Shaggy-haired Craig Roberts plays Oliver Tate, a 15-year old who lives in his head; he provides a voice-over narration to his existence as a fairly independent kid who is looking for a little meaning by way of losing his virginity and somehow solving his parent’s problematic marriage—not at the same time. While casing his school for an appropriate girlfriend/virginity-taking candidate—this is how his analytical mind works—Oliver spies the mildly unpopular Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige). They occupy a similar social status and they both have bangs. She’s mean, but he’s determined, and after she issues a media-relations-worthy press release in Polaroids, they actually get a cute little relation rolling.
An only child, Oliver is unnaturally tuned into his quiet, low-adventure parents—mother Jill (played deliciously straight by Sally Hawkins) and father Lloyd (Noah Taylor with hippie educator facial hair). They don’t seem out of tune, although Oliver monitors their lack of sex by checking the dimmer switch in their bedroom, but when an old friend and Jill’s ex-lover Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) moves in next door, all hell breaks loose in the most mellow way possible: Jill goes to see Graham’s New Age presentation and Lloyd won’t leave his brown bathrobe. Good times.
Oliver and Jordana fare better, lighting things on fire, running through industrial wastelands and on the beach, and “lovemaking.” Shit breaks down during a stressful moment, as it tends to do, and young love has a difficult time weathering the storm while mature love grows, proving the young are not to be envied, save for their smooth skin.
Ayoade creates a solid and unwavering tone throughout that covers all the clever (and funny and touching) moments of a completely realistic story, one that doesn’t merely tell what it’s like to be Oliver, but shows. Only 34 years old, Ayoade’s career will be interesting to follow—if he has such a deft handle on being a teenager, imagine how he might handle the 20s.
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