Richard Ayoade’s debut film manages the considerable feat of being poignant and moving and at the same time extremely funny. The director focuses on the confusion of youth and the perils of adolescent love but at the same time finds humour in the often delusional quirks of its young lead.
The film begins with Oliver Tate, our de-facto narrator, imagining the impact his own death would have upon his classmates. In his own mind, Oliver is a much loved and respected pupil whose demise would render the rest of the school in ruins. Naturally, the reality is slightly different. Oliver is socially awkward and prone to flights of fancy which see him cast as the lead role in a movie of his own life. He soon becomes infatuated with a seemingly confident girl at his school called Jordana and he even going so far as to bully another girl in their class to impress her.
Eventually after bonding over a spot of light arson, the two become boyfriend and girlfriend. The uncomfortable nature of a flourishing young romance is perfectly captured as we witness such benchmarks as the nervous first kiss and the first time Oliver meets Jordana’s parents. Despite Oliver being new to the world of relationships, his overactive imagination goes into overdrive and he becomes convinced that he is involved in the most important relationship of his life. Naturally, he is also now an authority in the ways of love.
As Oliver’s first romance begins to blossom he becomes very aware that his parents may be experiencing problems and being the expert that he is, Oliver sets out to repair their marriage. His chronically laid-back dad and incredibly tightly wound mum barely speak anymore and through his own dimmer-switch related detective work, Oliver has established that they haven’t had sex for many months.
Oliver’s mother meanwhile, played with typical panache by the instantly likeable Sally Hawkins, is getting reacquainted with an old ‘friend’ who has moved back into the neighbourhood. New age mystic and self-help guru Graham is an inspired creation from Paddy Considine and his elaborate mullet and leather trousers combo is only trumped in the absurdity stakes by his own spiritual ramblings.
As well as his pre-occupation with his parent’s sex-life, Oliver is also determined to experience sex himself with Jordana. A cringe worthy attempt at mood-setting when his parents go out for the night is a comic highlight as Oliver channels his inner Austin Powers to disastrous effect.
Ayoade injects Submarine with a very distinct tone and adopts various stylistic touches throughout to give it a quirky and off beat feel. The ongoing self narration by Oliver and cut-aways to past or even imagined events are utilised superbly by the debutant director and they never interfere with the story as a whole.
As the wonderfully peculiar Oliver, relative newcomer Craig Roberts is something of a revelation. His depiction of teenage social awkwardness and romantic naivety is spot on and his almost monotone delivery works completely given his character’s introverted nature. At times Oliver is like a teenage, Welsh Woody Allen, chock full of neuroses but effortlessly likeable all the same. The scenes between Oliver and his mum are particular highlights as Roberts and Hawkins share a great screen chemistry. The scene where Oliver slips his mother a love note that is meant to be from his dad only for her to see through his ruse instantly is especially funny as is the embarrassing discussion where she refuses to accept that he has a girlfriend.
Submarine perfectly captures the innocence and naivety of youth and the fact that it plays out like a biopic created in its young lead’s mind is fitting. At Oliver’s age a lot of teenagers are filled with doubts, questions and insecurities and can also be convinced that their problems are the most crushing ones on earth. Here Ayoade harnesses that insecurity for great comic effect and still finds time to give you a heartfelt and believable love story. Also, any film that contains the line “my mum gave a handjob to a mystic” and keeps a straight face has to be worth a watch. Easily one of the best films of the year so far.
Submarine surfaces on DVD and blu-ray 1st August 2010.
DIRECTOR: RICHARD AYOADE
WRITER: RICHARD AYOADE, JOE DUNTHORNE
CAST: CRAIG ROBERTS, YASMIN PAIGE, SALLY HAWKINS, NOAH TAYLOR, PADDY CONSIDIINE
RUNTIME: 97 MIN