Quirky, intelligent and keenly observant, Submarine marks the beginnings of two hugely talented filmmakers.
Every now and then a British filmmaker raises his head above the parapet to stake a claim as a must watch talent. Danny Boyle did it with Shallow Grave(1994), Edgar Wright with Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and more recentlyGareth Edwards with Monsters (2010). It’s a tough nut to crack due to the limited budgets available to British filmmakers. Based on his debut feature film you can now add the name of Richard Ayoade to that list, for what he achieves with Submarine is nothing short of breathtakingly British in all the ways that encompass the Great in Great Britain.
Submarine follows 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Roberts) at a particularly difficult time in his young life. He’s looking to raise his street-cred, by dating Jordana Bevan (Paige), avoid getting beaten up at school, but more importantly understand why his mother (Hawkins) seems more interested in new neighbour Graham (Considine) than she is in Oliver’s father (Taylor). All of this while trying to navigate the confusion of growing up makes Oliver’s life wonderfully complicated.
Any coming of age story has to get inside the viewer’s head, remind them what it was like going through that awkward stage of discovering who you are in relation to the rest of the world. Submarine does this with such ease you wonder if Ayoade was secretly recording everything in your life from your formative years. Oliver’s nuanced voice-over captures the disjointed, conflicted and outright bizarre thought process of a teenager better than any yearning would-be vampire or boy wizard ever could.
What is more the film is laced with a subtle, yet always affectionate, satirical nostalgia. The world through Oliver’s eyes is at once bleak before suddenly being saturated in the kind of dream like awareness only memory can create. The vibrant red of Jordana’s coat or the gentle hue of a sparkler in the night sky immediately pop out from the otherwise grey clouds that are synonymous with British school days.
Crucial to this is Oliver’s firm belief that he is the most important thing in the world. That somewhere, just out of site a film crew documents every detail of his fascinating existence. Of course he then highlights that this is the point where a crane shot would rise up but due to budget constraints we will have to make to with a slow track away. It is here that Ayoade’s ability as a director is able to truly flourish. With a natural and extensive grasp of cinematic language he draws us into Oliver’s world with kind of charm that is normally reserved for films like Amelie (2001).
His direction has a deft touch to it. Knowing when to be extravagant and when to hold back. The tone and style is akin to Wes Anderson’s work but with a sense of awareness that even he would marvel at. Add to this some genuinely artistic compositions and a perfectly aimed soundtrack, by The Arctic Monkey’s front man Alex Turner, and you cannot help but be swept up into Oliver’s over active imagination.
Much of Ayoade’s success must also be attributed to his ability to cast the right people in great character roles. Both Hawkins and Taylor and immediately recognisable as parents we all had. Distant and almost alien in the way they approach the world. Meanwhile Considine, always an unhinged presence, finds a level of bizarre that manages to make you laugh without ever feeling forced. The kind of man that you hope you one-day meat to only later never see again. Yasmin Paige, as Oliver’s love interest Jordana, manages to capture that cutting delivery only teenage girls can muster, at one point menacingly seductive before resorting to all manner of high jinks and teasing. However, it is Craig Roberts in the central role of Oliver who steals the show and warms the heart. His voice-over projects ideas of someone much older, surely part of the charm of the piece, but his body language is just as infectious. A posture that is immediately identifiable with someone uncomfortable in their own skin. Furthermore, Roberts’ delivery is always perfectly poised, the kind of pre-emptive speech pattern that a teenager has probably rehearsed for hours in front of the mirror. If we do not see this young actor flourish in the future it will be to cinema’s loss.
With enough quirk, warmth and keenly observed trends of growing pains Submarine is a film that demands attention.Suffice to say this submersible goes deeper than most coming of age dramedys.