Richard Ayoade is probably best known in the states for his starring role in the British sitcom, The IT Crowd, as well as his appearances on The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Hopefully, after the release of this, his first feature film, he’ll be recognized as a talented writer/director, as well. Ayoade’s adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s coming of age novel is an offbeat, touching film that features winning performances by young actors Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige. Submarine is an inventive, cleverly written entry into the teen film genre, one that elicits many laughs and some tears.
Fifteen year old Oliver Tate (Roberts) is a daydreaming, literate young man whose home life is on the edge. His father (Noah Taylor, Almost Famous) is a marine biologist who suffers from depression and his mom (Sally Hawkins, Happy-Go-Lucky) has a wandering eye for the self-help guru (Paddy Considine, In America) who has just moved in next door. Oliver fears for his parents’ marriage and keeps track of the number of times they are intimate by gauging whether the dimmer switch in their bedroom is at full illumination or a more romantic setting. His only distraction from home life is the girl he’s fallen for, Jordana Bevan (Paige), a spirited individual known for the distinct red coat she wears each day to school.
Oliver and Jordana begin hanging out as friends. Gradually, she falls for Oliver, although the young lady does her best to ignore his romantic gestures. Oliver eventually wins her over with a sweetness and innocence that is refreshing compared to the rest of the hormone driven jerks at their school. As their relationship deepens, the one between Mr. and Mrs. Tate deteriorates. Like any loving son, Oliver would give anything to ensure that his parents remained together. Their happiness becomes his obsession, to the point that he nearly ruins things with Jordana. As the Tates struggle to work things out, Oliver and Jordana must try and do the same because they really love each other. Submarine is insightful, tender and often quite hilarious. It’s a film that deserves a wider audience, an audience it will hopefully acquire now that it’s out on DVD and Blu-ray.
Ayoade has a subtle touch with his actors, bringing out natural, realistic performances, even from the most ridiculous characters (like Considine’s). His film style counters the naturalism of his performers. Using a variety of film stocks, some nifty camera work and editing techniques, this is one film that is a pleasure to watch just for its visuals. The DVD includes a well done behind the scenes featurette about the making of the film.
One final note. This film was rated ‘R,’ primarily for the language used by the teens in the film. Isn’t it time that the ratings board comes up with a new way to determine what films can been seen by teens under the age of 17? Submarine is yet another film that portrays adolescence in a sincere and realistic manner. It’s a shame that 15 and 16-year-olds who may be experiencing the same dilemmas that Oliver goes through could not see the film in theaters, as it was meant to be seen. I hope that the same teens who wander through the young adult sections of their libraries searching for a story that they can relate to pick up Sumbmarine on DVD.