Monday, 21 March 2011

Submarine (dir. Richard Ayoade, 2011)

Plot: 15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life.

Stars: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor

Submarine is the feature length debut from stand-up turned comic actor Richard Ayoade. Ayoade is probably most recognised as the uber-geek Moss in the hit channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd which gave his already cult status and deadpan humour a broader appeal and catapulted him into the mainstream.

Although Submarine is his debut feature length piece as director, Ayoade has already gained directing experience from his work in music videos. He has helmed the videos for bands such as The Arctic Monkeys (lead singer Alex Turner also composed the music for Submarine), The Last Shadow Puppets, The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Kasabian, and Vampire Weekend. He also directed the cult series' Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and Man to Man with Dean Learner, both of which he starred in.

Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine follows the escapades of a unique and off-centred little Chelsea chap called Oliver Tate as he tries to salvage his parents marriage while simultaneously developing a serious relationship with a rather coldblooded girl at school. This disequilibrium doesn't sound like a whole lot to sort out in the space of 90minutes; for Oliver however it is far too much to handle and that is where a lot of the comedy and drama lies.

As far as most movie synopses go Submarine doesn't sound like the most interesting of films either; in a post Juno world most people aren't looking for a new coming of age 'hipster' film so why should they pay admission to Submarine? For one the film's lack of plot and suspense is boosted greatly by Ayoade's avante-garde approach to telling his story, from the clearly Godardian opening titles/music it is clear that the film won't be a run of the mill generic exercise. The film doesn't shy away from breaking the fourth wall either, constantly reminding the viewer that they are watching a film. As well as many moments where the characters look straight into the camera (a big no no) in one brilliant moment Oliver says how in this particular moment in his life he would like the camera to crane up but how for budgetary reasons he can only afford a zoom out, the camera then, well you get the point.

Like the narrators in Terrence Malick's Badlands and Scorsese's Taxi Driver (favourites and major influences of Aoyade's) it is through the eyes of Oliver that we see the world of Submarine. Like Travis Bickle, Oliver has a warped sense of reality and ethics and never are we outside of his world view, we are in his head until the credits roll whether we like it or not. Luckily being in Oliver's mind is actually a very fun, if a slightly worrying experience.

Throughout the film Oliver must grow up and face the problems that are so much a part of adulthood. We know that he is after a girl at school called Jordana who loves to (occasionally) bully other pupils, we also know that the passion in his parents marriage has run out and that a divorce is immanent. When Oliver gets lucky and starts dating Jordana, his mother's first love Graham (played by the always brilliant Paddy Considine) moves in next door to further complicate the situation. When Jordana's own family life takes a turn for the worst Oliver just can't take the heat and goes about focussing on each problem one at a time naively and selfishly thinking that this is the best approach, for him and only him, it is.
In the final act when Oliver is trying to reconcile his love with Jordana the film ends on an ambiguous note. It is at this point we hope that Oliver has learned his lessons and has grown up enough to make it work with a girl he is so clearly (and oddly) loves.


Submarine is a refreshing film on many levels. Not only is it a debut from an already established British talent, it is so gung-ho and carefree with it's approach it is obvious that Ayoade never wanted to play it safe. The main protagonist is someone we should quite honestly despise but we end up rooting for even if we question ourselves later. Oliver's object of affection (Jordana) is equally if not more unlikeable but one which we see cracks of sensitivity show as the film goes on. The emotional core of the film however is found in Oliver's parents played sympathetically by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor, they both have their time to shine in comic wonder and their relationship is one that we really want to see salvaged given how little we know about them.

Richard Aoyade has proven he is a filmmaker to look out for as he has crafted a very enjoyable and solid debut. However, in a film that is littered with obscure cinematic references and is at times a little too self conscious (narrated character intros are getting a little testing now) Submarine might struggle to find an audience now that Aoyade is behind the camera. Still, like his previous work on television it will probably find its feet as a minor cult classic.

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