Friday 18 March 2011


Now in cinemas is the directorial debut of the one and only Richard Ayoade. Watch the trailer and find out what I thought of it, next...

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is something of an outsider. At school he tends to keep himself to himself, occasionally taking part in some ritualistic bullying to appear normal in the eyes of his peers. After giving in to the pressure of his friends, he decides it's time he found himself a girlfriend; the best option being the rather narcissistic and abrasive Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Romance soon blossoms, and Oliver finds the presence of Jordana to be a welcome distraction from the breakdown of his parents' marriage which he is witnessing firsthand. If only he can keep his mother away from the mulleted mystic Graham (Paddy Considine), all will be well in his life.

The feature film directorial debut of Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi, AD/BC: A Rock Opera, probably best known as Moss from The IT Crowd), Submarine is a film that's been on my radar for some time as one of my most highly anticipated films of 2011. I've been a fan of Ayoade's work, both as an actor and a director, since he first appeared on the scene as Dean Learner in Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. He's never really dealt with straight-forward comedy (if there is such a thing), the closest being the fan pleasing nerd he plays in The IT Crowd. As a writer and director he tends to stay clear of the mainstream, catchphrase heavy style of comedy, preferring to put his unique style into slightly random oddities like the modern Christmas classic that is AD/BC: A Rock Opera. If you don't know what that is, you need to stop what you're doing and go watch it now.

It's become all too easy to label anything with the slightest glimpse of quirk as being 'Wes Anderson-esque'. It's clear that Richard Ayoade is well versed in the works of Mr Anderson and Submarine should appeal to a similar audience, but his style shares more in common with the whimsical manner of Hal Ashby. Much like Ayoade, the film is very cine-literate (Oliver doesn't have over-boiled sprouts; his are 'out of focus') and wears its French New Wave influences on its sleeve. Oliver wanders the Welsh beaches like a lost Antoine Doinel looking for his camera crew, finding nothing but his over-active inner monologue.

This is a film all about character, and it's got a great one in lead Oliver Tate. Occupying nearly every frame of the movie, we get to know the inner workings of this 15 year old boy very well. He's a curious little chap with a great command of the English language, putting it to great use in his letter writing and unintentionally self deprecating one-liners. It'll be a struggle to find a better line this year than "Jordana hates anything romantic, so I took her to one of my favourite industrial estates". Somewhat obsessed with death and borderline autistic/sociopathic in his actions, he's what would have become of Harold from Harold and Maude if he'd have met a girl his own age first.

A lot of the success of the film must be pointed in the direction of Craig Roberts. As Oliver, he ably expresses the awkwardness of being an average teenager (albeit one with an above average intellect) finding his feet in a romantic setting. He may be slightly weird, but balances it out by being effortlessly sweet. Along with Yasmin Paige as the potentially icy Jordana, they make these characters feel realistic and likeable. The parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) are the least well drawn characters in the film, but as it's Oliver's tale that perhaps doesn't matter too much. I'd have liked to have seen more of them, as well as Paddy Considine's complex and intriguingly styled mystic.

Submarine is quite a beautiful film to look at. Making great use of the Welsh coast, the film is shot in a rich and grainy style that gives it an almost timeless feel. No real reference is made to when the film is set, but its use of Duffel coats and cassette players could plant it anytime in the last 25 years. Likewise, the melancholic songs that have been supplied by Arctic Monkeys front-man Alex Turner fit the tone of the film perfectly.

It's perhaps a little too random to find a mainstream audience (the Jellyfish intro may start to test your patience), but it's an extremely well crafted ode to teenage romance and the pangs of first love that encapsulates how well intentioned but cruel life can be. As a directorial debut it's impressive stuff, and I eagerly await what Richard Ayoade chooses to do next. Influenced by the masterworks of independent cinema it may be, but as a refreshing example of what new talent can achieve, Submarine may have just restarted the rotors of the British film industry.



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