Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a lonely, loveless, confused young intellectual. Still at the High School age, he lives off of his delusions (that his peers adore him and that he has many, many friends) so that he can escape his reality; which consists of the fact that he is actually completely without solid friends, and then there's his sexually lazy parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins, in two great roles). Oliver is more concerned with chronicling their love life than his own, since he believes it won't go anywhere anytime soon. He'd be wrong.
Oliver has been in love with a fellow class-mate for some time; an attractive young lady, of the same age and class, named Jordana (Yasmin Paige). It is only now, when the film begins, that he makes a move and wins her heart with his honest, quirky qualities. The hero's new love life does not, in fact, interrupt his old one (which consisted of regularly checking for signs of activity in his parent's romantic lives, and listening to LP records for inspiration towards a feeling oh-so-content); but it's something new, and the young lad embraces it. You could even say that he's fascinated by it.
"Submarine", the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade - who adapted the script from a source novel of the same name - , is an off-beat and overall well-played comic coming-of-age romance in which the characters are so, so much different than the couples that we're used to seeing. There's no surprise there, since this is the work of a first-time director, and it's also independent, so we, the audience, are lead to expect more than the norm. I always hope that I get what I desire out of these films; and this time, I got something more. I watch my share of romantic films, hoping to find one that really, really works. Well, as far as this year in cinema goes, this is my pick.
Ayoade seems to be taking a lot of visual and narrative stylistics from the works of off-kilter filmmakers such as Wes Anderson. The said director is a hero of mine; I'm sure he's a hero of Ayoade too, as long as he does indeed site Anderson as an inspiration. I'm not surprised; "Submarine" looks, feels, and even sounds like a Wes Anderson movie. It has a good soundtrack with some interesting and appropriately fitting tunes, it has characters that are at sea with the world around them, and oh, look at this; there's even some typography thrown in there for good measure.
I find all of the qualities that add up to the film impossible to dislike; to me, it felt complete. There were even many points in the film where I was able to invest emotionally in the story and its characters; each one is smartly drawn-out so that when the going gets rough, we care, we wait, and we watch without complaint for each. I particularly enjoyed the portrayal of the film's protagonist, young Oliver, who in the eyes of many will be pretentious and a straight-up snob. To me, he was a different kind of intellectual; the kind I might want to meet in spite of his emotional imperfections.
One thing I tend to dislike the most about romantic dramas/comedies is the fact that so few of them are true-to-life or based on the experiences of their authors. I guess it's all in the writing; Ayoade seems to have understood the novel he based his screenplay upon enough so that he could make a satisfying and engaging movie out of it. There is a chance that he grew up faced with the kind of troubles that the likable Oliver Tate ponders and struggles to endure. And that's why we can connect to the characters, the direction that the story takes, and the way "Submarine" was made. There's some delightful human comedy included in the package, as the trailers so openly suggest, but it's not always the kind that you'd expect...or want. Let's just say that to fully appreciate the film; it is absolutely essential that your sense of humor is at least somewhat dark; because otherwise, it will come off as a dry, unrewarding experience.
Another thing that I absolutely adored about the film was the surrealism. I honestly didn't expect such a huge, wide-scale emphasis to be on it; but oh, it was a rather pleasant surprise. There are some interesting visual schemes used; and some individual scenarios that are almost pleasantly weird. However, what I love most about "Submarine" is the fact that Ayoade does not intend his film to be merely quirky and strange for the sake of being both of those things; each dream-like image is fascinating and meant to convey the emotions of each character involved in the sequence. Take, for example, a shot in which we see Oliver lying in his bed, literally drifting out to sea. Watching the film, it's clear why the director chose to show this; not too obvious, and not too obscure. Just the way I like it.
So there you have it. "Submarine" is one of the best films of 2011. The material got the proper treatment that it ever-so-desperately needed, the emotions of the characters and the tale being told were close to me at all times, and overall, I just really dug what those involved were trying to do. I think it paints a path for Ayoade to follow; he is promising, and one of the few filmmakers of the modern age to get a debut picture this good. I'm sure that most people reading will enjoy the film (although perhaps not quite as much). I admit that it's not going to find much success amongst a largely main-stream audience; they should probably stay away. But if you're reading this, then I'll assume you are not in that crowd, and that you are willing to explore. "Submarine" is for you; just as it is for me, for director Ayoade, and lastly, for Tate. Everyone's happy, in the end, some just a little more than others.
SUBMARINE Written and Directed by Richard Ayoade Starring Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine Oliver Tate: I live in a large house with my parents. It has breathtaking scenery. I’m not sure I believe in scenery. The adolescent mind can sure be a dramatic one and that intensity is played up to hilarious heights in Richard Ayoade’s narrative feature film debut, SUBMARINE. The mind that we are given unadulterated access to belongs to one Oliver Tate (Craig … more
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