“Most people think of themselves as individuals. That there’s no-one on the planet like them. This thought motivates them to get out of bed, eat food, and walk around like nothing’s wrong. My name is Oliver Tate.”
A self-assured writer/director debut from Richard Ayoade, probably best known to people as Moss in The IT Crowd, Submarine succeeds in being something a little odd and unique, but strangely all-encompassing, capturing a sense of alienation and angst that most teenagers have gone through at one point or another.
I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of a way to describe the movie. “Like Wes Anderson decamped to Wales and decided to make a Judy Blume adaptation” is about as close as I can get, but it doesn’t really do the movie justice. While Richard Ayoade’s work seems to owe something to Anderson stylistically, there’s a warmth and affection to it that’s lacking in Anderson’s sterile environments.
The story concerns it self with Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a teenager growing up in a small town in Wales, (presumably) sometime in the eighties. His dad (Noah Taylor) is a dispassionate, depressive marine biologist direct from presenting on the Open University and his mother (Sally Hawkins) is distracted by the obnoxious New Age mystic Graham (Paddy Considine), who’s moved in next door. Oliver’s not exactly a complete outsider, but not popular either, despite his messianic delusions and attempts to adopt intellectual affectations. In other words, he’s not unique, he’s just your typical teen. And Oliver has a crush on fellow classmate Jordana (Sarah Jane Adventure’s Yasmin Paige), an acerbic, self-professed pyromaniac.
There’s a deft tone to the movie, a very deadpan delivery in the directorial style and Robert’s dry voiceover. Oliver clearly considers himself to be someone unique, an intellectual, an outsider, living a remarkable life, but there’ll be a familiarity to many people who were in the grip of similar self-delusions in their formative years. As the movie progresses, with Oliver trying to balance his growing relationship with Jordana with his attempts to save his parents marriage, the stylistic elements employed - sudden cuts, fantasy sequences, Oliver’s weary, borderline pretentious narration - all enhance the bittersweet humor.
There’s some excellent performances too. Roberts manages to ooze doe-eyed vulnerability and pompousness in the same breath, with the movie hung on his central performance - angst-ridden but never unlikable - and Paige impresses as his teenage femme-fatale. They’re fully realized teenage characters, not archetypes, and that’s something refreshing. Taylor and Hawkins are also hilarious, but it’s Considine’s beautifully egotistical Graham who stole the show for me - all leather pants and ridiculous hair.
And unlike Anderson’s full-on diving into cynical pretentiousness, there’s something very endearing about Ayoade’s film. A warmth at the heart of it and in the central performances that draws you in. The character are both likable and frustratingly self-absorbed.
Just like teenagers should be.