Review: Submarine (Ayoade, 2010)

Still from the movie Submarine

I’ve been looking forward to this film with delicious anticipation for several years, and I was not disappointed. In other words, I declare that director Richard Ayoade‘s first made-for-the-big-screen feature is a success. Submarine, based off the novel of the same title by Welsh author Joe Dunthorne, is a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless charmingly earnest coming of age tale about high school-aged Oliver Tate struggling to cope with his parents’ strained marriage while pursuing the usual teenage imperatives of finding a girlfriend and trying not to stand out too much. Oddball Oliver is played perfectly by Craig Roberts, who looks like a young James McAvoy come straight out of a Beatles record cover, and I could not imagine a better Jordana Bevan (his romantic opposite) than Yasmin Paige. Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) also makes an appearance as Oliver’s mom. (Hawkins seems to be making a career out of playing plaintive, unlikable women.)

The feel of the movie is Wes Anderson (the hilarity of Rushmore but the nostalgia of Moonrise Kingdom) meets Noah Baumbach‘s The Squid and the Whale but with its own brand of fresh funny, at times teasingly pathetic, at times uncompromisingly honest. I could not help but fall in love with Oliver and Jordana. Strange as they are, they’re also believably young with all of youth’s myopia and straightforwardness. But is their view of the world so distorted, or is it the adults who have lost touch, who grievously misbehave?

The film takes place in the anonymous industrial suburbia of Wales, and the scenes of mechanical detritus retain their repulsiveness but nonetheless please the eye. Kudos to the DP for capturing an important stylistic element of the film–that is, making the ugly, well, if not pretty, at least interesting, worthy of our attention. No one in the movie is particularly attractive-looking, not even Jordana in her bulky red coat and severe haircut, but actually isn’t Oliver dashing and vulnerable, and isn’t Jordana richly expressive with her cold stares and impish smiles, and isn’t Oliver’s dad maybe a little distinguished-looking?

Well, I could go on, but I won’t. Just watch it.

Note: 1) The Double, Ayoade’s second narrative movie, featuring some of the same cast members, is currently traversing the festival circuit to mixed reviews. 2) Excellent soundtrack.

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