Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by: Richard Ayoade (screenplay)
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor
Richard Ayoade will probably emerge as a “unique” new voice of independent cinema after this debut feature. Submarine is exactly the kind of movie that can be a cross-over hit in America. It’s got everything critics and its built-in audience adore: a spunky sense of humor, an aesthetic flare and a sensitive young male protagonist.
Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a younger version of Harold, though this movie contains no Maude. Instead, there’s a younger Lulu out of Something Wild, bob haircut and all. When Oliver meets Jordana (Yasmin Paige) he’s immediately drawn to her. To win her over he must take part in the cruel bullying of a larger girl. He does, and he feels subsequently guilty, but he views it as something he had to do for his muse.
Submarine should’ve been an exploration of the extent people go to to win over their objects of affection. In a way the movie initially does this, but it should sting more. The screenplay, also by Ayoade, is wry and filled with self-reflexivity, so much so that it rejects any form of thematic analysis. Its primary goal seems to be to take the blooming existential concerns of a 15-year-old and project them so largely that they seem important.
Submarine seemed like it was going toward goodness if not greatness at the beginning. Instead, it devolves into just another whiny white male fantasy. That being said, the first half is quite engaging, and the two young actors are completely believable in the initial warmth of their relationship. The painful schoolyard bullying is always on the periphery, and something that Oliver has to endure for Jordana in addition to sometimes dishing out on her behalf.
Ayoade conveys that blossoming romance with Oliver projecting it on Super 8 film. He has undeniable visual gifts, and the best thing about Submarine is its aesthetic consistency and his unflinching willingness to greet the bizarre.
Oliver’s internal weirdness is wonderfully projected onto the environment without it feeling overwrought. He dreams of visiting Jordana in the hospital after her mother’s cancer operation, and Ayoade uses two expressive sequences; in the first he is simply walking through empty hospital corridors toward his red-coated girlfriend, but in the other he is walking on a bridge toward both Jordana and her mother. Beneath him is a four-sided waterfall with a black hole at its center.
The inter-cutting of these two sequences is a fine example of a budding directorial vision, as is much of Submarine. Ayoade also has a wonderful way with actors and words, but he embodies a growing problem in independent cinema. More often than not, writer/directors like this (Mark Webb and Zach Braff, et al.) make movies that are formally competent and often wickedly clever, though they offer no new insight on their genre.
That growing genre would be the male-targeted romance, in which off-beat humor and eccentric characters are used to ease their audience into the love story. It is the opposite of the female-driven romantic comedy in that it is more concerned with what is going on inside the male head.
Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins do admirable jobs of creating characters we can almost believe in. Hawkins in particular has the difficult job of conveying seriousness in a thankless mother role that has her running off at all hours of the night to be with an obnoxious psychic (Paddy Considine). She does it with killer comic timing and her endlessly sad eyes. The scene where Oliver tells her he has his first girlfriend and she makes excuses for her initial disbelief is excellent.
Scenes like that show how Oliver is relatively young for this type of movie, further evidenced by his other parental conflicts and his school uniform. He is treated as a a fully capable adult, though, even when he’s not. The same could be said of the filmmaker.