If Submarine – A coming of age tale about a young boy (Craig Roberts) trying to understand his current romance and his parent’s dysfunctional marriage – sounds familiar, that’s probably unavoidable. Reaching adulthood, and unerstanding that your parents are humans too is something most people go through, and so filmmakers as diverse as David Lynch, Francois Truffaut, and George Lucas have all tacked it. For Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, the talking point comparison is going to be Rushmore, but they’re after different things, even if the template is similar. Submarine goes out on limited release this weekend.
- Writer/Director: Richard Ayoade
- Stars: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige
- Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate (Roberts) is a hyper-attentive intellectual who – like a lot of characters who are obviously surrogates for writers – pays a lot of attention to the world around him. He keeps track of his parent’s sex life via their dimmer switch, and is somewhat of an outsider at school. He has friends, but he can’t talk to the girl he has a crush on, Jordana Bevan (Paige). Eventually the two begin dating, but as they do, Oliver comes to see that his mother’s old flame has moved back into the neighborhood. His mother (Hawkins) and father (Taylor) have settled into married life through routine, while Graham Purvis (Considine) is a psychic with a mullet who practices kung-fu in the backyard while his girlfriend services him. When Graham turns single, Oliver monitors and tries to help.
- Richard Ayoade: Best known to Americans who follow British comedy, Ayoade is best known for Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace, a TV show about a hacky horror writer’s overcooked 80′s television show. But as the writer/director here, he shows that he isn’t just a jokester, and finds the heart of the material. The characters have inner lives and feel like they exist outside the frame, while his visual sense may seem familiar to Wes Anderson’s style, it seems they both have the same set of influences (the French New Wave, Hal Ashby, etc.). Though Submarine feels like a first film, it also announces that Ayoade is a very talented filmmaker, and whatever he does next is worth checking out. This is a coming of age tale, and the film knows what it is, and it goes about doing it. Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins are perfect as the parents, and it’s a very smart and well considered piece. It also suggests Ayoade is a big Jean-Pierre Melville fan.
- Roberts and Paige: Young actors are difficult to cast, but these two are excellent. And though the majority of these films seem to focus on their male protagonists (because they are usually thinly-vieled autobiographies), Yasmin Paige is so winning in this, and the film gives her the most interesting challenges. Going from the bad girl at school, to the love interest, to a young woman who needs reassurances and for her partner to be there for her, there’s a lot going on, and how she plays it, and how the film views her go through a number of perception shifts. There is a beautiful moment where Oliver recognizes that their relationship will never be the same again, and the film captures that emotional shift. But the film wouldn’t work without someone like Roberts front and center, who manages to be sympathetic even when he borders on being a sociopath.
- Paddy Considine’s Hair: It’s a mullet for the centuries.
- Familiarity: If every generation has its tale of adolescent love and woe, that’s fair – every generation goes through it, and every generation feels their version of it is singular. But from the homages to the French New Wave, to the light and lyrical tone, to the use of the word handjob as a punchline, it’s also impossible to watch this film and not think of Harold and Maude or Rushmore. These aren’t ruinous references, and they’re great touchstones, but there’s also less of a sense of discovery because of it. It’s good riffing, but you can see a lot of connective tissue. But because it’s familiar, it also points out that it’s a solid good film, but not as great as those other works. Ayoade has a voice, but his cadence is very familiar. That may be the nature of these stories, and the film is based on a book, but it’s hard to avoid thinking about those references while watching the film.
A nice little film about love, Submarine is the sort of film that stays with you, and will likely find a very passionate fanbase of people who relate all too well to the proceedings if it hits them at the right time in their lives. For those who no longer cling to their adolescence, it’s still a strongly told story about that period of life, about crushes and first girlfriends, and nervousness about sex, and discovering that your parents have lives that don’t revolve around you. It’s also a good first film, and Ayoade is someone to keep an eye on. If it misses greatness, that’s a small fault.
Submarine hits New York and Los Angeles June 3, and will expand shortly thereafter.