Submarine is a coming of age feature from directorial debutant, Richard Ayoade.
My preconceptions of Submarine were of mixed feeling. I anticipated a quirky cinematic experience, perhaps verging on chic. This is because Richard Ayoade, previously recognisable for playing Moss in The IT Crowd, currently sits at the height of fashionably cool. Ayoade is notable for perfecting the nerd-chic look and was recently described by NME magazine as the â€œcoolest man in Londonâ€ an accolade which he believes to be a â€œcategory errorâ€. Â I must confess, I donâ€™t react well to â€œcoolâ€; that is, cool for the sake of cool, it has long been my opinion that cool is usually effortless, and never forced. Therefore, I was alert to the fact that if Ayoade imposed his own brand of fashionable quirkiness upon Submarine, I would probably find it tough going. To my satisfaction it took a mere ten minutes for these notions to be quashed and I promptly settled into what turned out to be a grounded and thoroughly enjoyable cinematic experience.
The film chronicles the â€˜coming of ageâ€™ of protagonist, Oliver Taite, and his struggles with the numerous hazards of being a teenager. Oliver is fifteen and has two objectives in life, to lose his virginity and to stop his mother leaving his regularly depressed father. Oliver is an endearing character, played aptly by big-screen debutant Craig Roberts. The supporting cast are also excellent, with not one prominent weak link amongst them. Sally Hawkins continues her recent run of impressive performances with an excellent turn as Oliverâ€™s mother, managing to inject some humour into a role that is serious and awkward. Noah Taylor achieves a similar feat as Oliverâ€™s depressive father and Yasmin Paige also performs admirably as Oliver’s love-interest, Jordana. Paddy Considine plays the hilarious role of Graham the mystic to perfection, though he is slightly overshadowed by his haircut (a striking mullet), which has a comparable amount of on-screen comedic presence to the late Peter Sellers. His spiritual activities are the butt of most of the filmâ€™s jokes, and they manage to be genuinely funny, providing light relief from some of the more serious points to the story. These range from the difficulty of marriage, the trauma of long-term illness and Oliverâ€™s angsty depression when events conspire to go against him. All of these aspects are handled in a subtle and tactful manner. It is of great testament to the filmâ€™s writing that all the characters share one characteristic: they are unquestionably, and unenviably human. It is never easy for a filmmaker to turn movie characters into human beings, but, primarily through the flaws that each individual personality carries, Submarine achieves this with consummate ease.
One of the big questions is – how does Ayoades direction measure up? Admirably, is the quite simple answer. For a man whos previous directorial work includes a handful of shorts, a few music videos and a couple of hit-and-miss television programmes, itâ€™s a more than impressive debut. His numerous influences are unashamedly on show: the title sequences are unmistakably Gaspar Noe-esque and Ayoade has named The Graduate as inspiration for his use of music, along with Scorseseâ€™s work, in particular Taxi Driver, as an overarching influence. Throw a pinch of originality into the mix and it is an eclectic and impressive infusion. That is not to say his direction is perfect; there are numerous occasions when the camerawork leaves a little to be desired, in particular a few of the techniques utilised, most notably the zoom-out, feel a little clunky. However, he manages to keep the picture moving smoothly from start to finish. Where the film really tries hard are the numerous explorations into the psyche of Oliver Taite, along with the occasional montage scene. These are probably the most interesting facets of the movie, though they donâ€™t all quite work. There was one particular romance montage that left me feeling a little awkward, but the humour and ingenuity of some of Taiteâ€™s visualised musings more than made up for it.
Overall, Submarine is an enjoyable experience that lives up to its moderate pre-release hype. The story is entertaining and touching, though it lags in the middle, and there is not one weak link amongst the cast. The soundwork is terrific, and the visuals are handled with both skill and attention to detail. Itâ€™s also genuinely funny, with Oliverâ€™s wit and Grahamâ€™s slapstick combining to entice a few giggles from the audience.Â Submarine may not end up being canonised as a generation-defining film, but it is a solid big-screen debut from Ayoade. Definitely not a bad way to spend a rainy evening at the pictures.