The Review: It’s easy to form preconceptions when a well known figure turns their hand to directing, especially when that person has portrayed some very distinctive figures in cult comedies of the last ten years. From Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace via The Mighty Boosh to The IT Crowd, Richard Ayoade has created some memorable characters, but it would be easy to pigeon-hole him to expect a certain kind of film. It would be easy to pigeon-hole me as someone who writes obvious introductions to their reviews, and this has only served to underline that as of course Ayoade delivers a film well distanced from such expectations. Submarine wears its inspirations on its sleeve, and indeed on most of the rest of its clothing, and what Ayoade has served up can be described in one sentence as a traditional British working class coming of age drama with a Welsh flavour, filtered through the French New Wave in the manner of Wes Anderson.
That it’s so easily summed up is no discredit to the film, but actually doesn’t do it too much of a disservice either. The narrative revolves around Oliver (Craig Roberts) and the twin distractions in his life; his shambling attempts to strike up a relationship with classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). This is offset by his investigations into his parents’ love live and the potential intrusion of an interloping neighbour (Paddy Considine) with whom his mother (Sally Hawkins) has some prior history. In typical fashion, Craig’s own preoccupations and expectations result in him doing both increasing badly and his attempts to rectify one only serve to have an adverse affect on the other.
As with the movements that have inspired it, Submarine is as much about the small details as it is about the larger plot. The Wes Anderson comparison is probably the key here, the characters feeling very much as if they could inhabit the same literary universe and having their own quirks and foibles. Roberts and Paige are magnetic in their roles, and both feel very much destined for long careers, Roberts especially managing to capture both the everyman anonymity and the eccentricity of his character. Considine gets the most to chew of the scenery of the adults, while Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the parents are much more restrained, but still get to have their moments to shine, especially as the plot strands draw to resolution. As for Ayoade, despite the obvious influences he shows a sure grip on the material at all times and keeps a gentle flow of humour running throughout the picture, but also manages to tap real emotions once in a while as well.
There’s no doubt that the stylistic choices of the New Wave are a natural fit for Oliver’s psyche, even shown at one point laying on the floor listening to Serge Gainsbourg, capturing perfectly the existential angst that seems to inevitably beset teenagers of his kind, at least in films. That was also undoubtedly an influence for Wes Anderson, but the difference between this and Anderson’s best work is that the characters, even when wholly unsympathetic, still manage to have some sense of warmth which is missing from most of the protagonists here, an icy feeling blowing through the film until almost the last scenes. There are a few distinctive touches, not least Alex Turner’s gorgeous songs which perfectly complement Andrew Hewitt’s score, but really there’s more that’s imitation than innovation. So Submarine, while great on its own terms, falls short of classic status, but there’s enough here to suggest that those who’ve not already got a classic film on their CV will have one to add sooner or later. With Ayoade, you feel that it’s likely to be sooner rather than later.
Why see it at the cinema: Taking so much inspiration from a movement that spoke the language of cinema means that there’s plenty that benefits from being projected on a larger screen.
The Score: 8/10