Submarine is the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade best known for his role as Afro-haired Über geek Maurice Moss in Channel 4 comedy The IT Crowd. Based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel the comedy drama stars Craig Roberts as 15 year old Oliver Tate. Wishing to get more out of his young life Oliver spends a great deal of time in a world of his own daydreaming and fantasising. However, things take a sudden turn when Oliver unexpectedly finds himself with a girlfriend, the beguiling Jordana, (Yasmin Paige) and discovers that his mother is considering having an affair.
Most of Submarine’s deadpan humour is derived from the inconsequential and mundane circumstances of Oliver Tate’s life. The film’s 1980s setting serves to instil a sense of grey drabness rather than harking back to the era for a nostalgia trip. We don’t hear about the royal wedding or Michael Jackson instead we see air fix models and duffle coats. Oliver’s parents fit perfectly into the role of lower middleclass professionals and carry out their lives in a pleasant if perfunctory fashion. Both look upon Oliver as an archetypal teenager who has to go through the necessary stages towards adulthood rather than an individual.
Noah Taylor is fantastic as Oliver’s marine biologist father Lloyd a kind but extremely boring man. The scene in which Lloyd offers some relationship advice to Oliver is hilariously cringe-inducing as the former Open University lecturer gives his son a compilation tape of romantic songs to amplify his feelings of joy not forgetting to include a couple of break-up songs at the end to help him get over the inevitable.
Sally Hawkins looks too young, (even with her frumpy makeover,) to be completely believable as Oliver’s highly strung mother Jill nevertheless she puts in an entertaining performance as a woman whose parenting skills emanate from a series of self-help manuals. Not that Oliver himself is entirely normal he tells us that his parents haven’t had sex for seven months because dimmer switch in their bedroom has not been turned down in all that time. Shouldn’t the thought of their parents doing it horrify any self-respecting teenager!?
Later when Oliver discovers his mother is heading towards an affair with an old flame Graham, (Paddy Considine,) who has just moved in next door he suddenly realises how important his parents’ marriage actually is and sets about bringing them closer together. Graham is the only truly unrealistic character in the film not that it matters a jot because the cartoonish mystic complete with appalling spiky mullet hairstyle and snazzy waistcoat is an absolute riot. Mention must also be made of Yasmin Paige, who with her bewitching eyes and killer fringe, is perfectly suited to play the subversive Jordana.
Stylistically Submarine combines drab realism with a gentle parody of French New Wave Cinema seen in the large text on the opening credits and the kaleidoscopic vision of Jordana wearing her heart shaped sunglasses. The New Wave techniques lend themselves to Oliver’s romantic fantasies whilst the everyday situations such as getting beaten up in the school playground bring him sharply back down to earth. However, the recurring picturesque shots of the Welsh coastline at sunset may denote that beauty, like Jordana, is tangible and real.
Almost every review of Submarine contains the word ‘quirky’ somewhere in its description and whilst the film does have its fair share of unusual twists and unexpected snatches of dialogue it deals with a very familiar almost clichéd set of characters and circumstances. The story of an awkward adolescent schoolboy who falls in love with a precocious girl is a familiar one seen in Gregory’s Girl, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole et al. However, one of Submarine’s great strengths is how it manages to put a different slant on the familiar material to produce a fresh perspective: whilst Oliver is into mushy romance ultra cool Jordana refuses to take part; rather than scaring the life out of him, (as we would expect,) Jordana’s father welcomes Oliver as part of the family; the building tension between Oliver’s repressed parents fails to erupt and dark subject matter such as marital break-up and cancer are dealt with. Submarine is sweet, funny and heartfelt its mixture of romance and darkness leaves a lasting effect on the viewer. The themes and ideas explored go beyond adolescent experience and in the words of Oliver will matter to the film’s young audience when they are 38.