Directed by Richard Ayoade
Emotional and cynical in equal measure, this directorial debut from Richard Ayoade (British television's The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh) is a riot of flashy film techniques and aggressively clever dialogue. Adapted from Joe Dunthorne's novel, Submarine is upfront about its heart-on-sleeve showiness. At the outset, the protagonist-narrator Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a fifteen year-old Swansea oddball grasping for an identity, warns, "There will be helicopter shots. There will be slow-mo, but also transcendent moments." Ayoade dutifully tosses all this and more into the jumble, but the excess suits the precocious coming-of-age subject matter. Everything about its eager-to-please, acerbic-hip attitude and style screams "first film"—Ayoade tries a little bit of everything, as if he was worried this would be the only movie he'd ever get to make.
Oliver's affected world-weariness belies an insecure uncertainty of self. He's had a "brief hat phase" and currently carries an adult briefcase. He's infatuated with the trenchant Jordana (Yasmin Page), whose character quirk signifiers include hand eczema, a fondness for "light arson," and a mother hospitalized with a mortal brain tumor. The two outsiders establish a kinship, and she abets his plan to lose his virginity before his next birthday. At home, Oliver contends with an emotionally absent mother (Sally Hawkins) who is cheating on his paralytically depressed father (Noah Taylor) with an ex, the corny motivational speaker charlatan Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine). Supplementing Oliver's real world travails are glimpses into his hyperactive, narcissistic imagination, an earnest and bitter playground of ego and arch judgment. It's in Oliver's head that Ayoade and cinematographer Erik Wilson give free reign to their stylistic trickbook, piling on freeze-frames, exuberant handheld, and the promised chopper shots, scored to a catchy, fresh set of songs from Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner.
Submarine nods to coming-of-age chroniclers from Salinger to Ashby (Oliver's a lot like Bud Cort's Harold Chasen), with poignant ocean shore runs out of The 400 Blows. The most obvious blueprint is Rushmore—switch the soundtrack to British Invasion and the two would often be interchangeable. There's even a shared appreciation for the funniness of the word "handjob," which features in one of the better lines ("My mom gave a handjob to a mystic"). The mystic is Considine's Purvis, a mulleted quack whose professional jargon includes phrases like "I am a prism" and "exciting and delicious." This comic type has been mocked in stuff like Magnolia and Donnie Darko, but Considine is so excellent that it doesn't matter that the target's easy. As the miserable dad who "ruins every Christmas" ("It's a tea kettle"), Taylor is equally good. Double-glazing on windows is the only subject that seems to fire his passion, but he is touched enough by his son's romantic strivings to give him a themed mix tape with a side each for "celebratory" and "despondency".
Submarine is crammed to a nearly wearying degree with details like this, but since it means well, and it's so consistently funny, you stay on its side. Ayoade, shooting the moon, works much out of his system here, and it'll be interesting to see how he follows up from a fresh deck.
Opens June 3