Writing this now, it seems weird that there was a time when Richard Ayoade was just that weird yet hilarious bloke from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley and The IT Crowd. Yes, he was a comedic force to be reckoned with but it wasn’t until the release of his directorial debut that we all realised how much filmic potential lay underneath the surface. Submarine was the film that had film critics all over the world proclaiming that Ayoade was destined to be the next big thing in British cinema. It was also the only film I was thinking about after watching The Fundamentals of Caring recently. That’s the great thing about this TBT feature; whenever I can a hankering to revisit an old favourite I can do it with the excuse of writing a post. If this means I get to feel less guilty about hanging out watching a film I love and listening to nothing but Alex Turner for the next few weeks then it’s an added bonus.
Submarine is the coming-of-age story of 15 year old Oliver Tate, a loner who is desperate to fit in with his school mates. Like every other teenage boy Oliver is obsessed with girls and sex so sets his sights on losing his virginity with the mysterious Jordana. After a successful first tryst, Oliver finds himself trying to come to terms with the realities of being in a relationship whilst worrying about his parents dwindling marriage. Ever since his mother’s (Sally Hawkins) ex-boyfriend (Paddy Considine) moved next door, Oliver has been worried about how far apart his parents having been getting. His mother is chasing the past and his father (Noah Taylor) is spiralling into a depression. Oliver decides that, before he can settle down with Jordana, he needs to fix his parents.
Submarine sounds likes a thoroughly bleak affair and, really, Oliver’s continued voice-over does little to discourage this idea. In the film’s opening, Oliver imagines the impact his death would have on the people around him. He dreams about the girls at his school lamenting about their wasted romantic feelings and is parents woefully making statements about their son. Yet, within this darkness there lies an undeniable humorous tone. It is the kind of humour that comes out of discomfort and the awkwardness of weird adolescent drama. It is certainly uncomfortable and frank but it’s undeniably funny.
Something that director, Richard Ayoade, certainly knows how to work with. As someone who has made a name for himself thanks to the weirder side of comedy Ayoade is on familiar ground here. When you consider this was the film that introduced him to the list of British filmmakers to watch you can undertand why people were so quick to hail the comedian for greatness. Submarine is a self-assured and stylish debut. It has many connections with the world of cinema and has more than a few similarities to the likes of Wes Anderson. I mean, if I had to quibble, I would say that the voice-over and subtitles thing was a little played out even by 2011 but, if that’s the worst criticism I can muster, it’s hardly a catastrophe.
Submarine doesn’t exactly sit within our reality, which lends itself well to Ayoade’s style. The characters are all just a little too quirky and their thought processes are a little too skewed. Oliver, in particular, feels a little too out there to really resonate on anything more than a strange, comedic level. At his worst he is contemplating killing his girlfriend’s dog to prepare her for the potential death of her mother. At his best he is creating a pamphlet to help a victim of schoolyard bullying fit in better. This is the kind of film in which an adulterous mother explains to her son that she just gave her ex a hand-job instead of dealing with the issue in private. It’s all very funny but sometimes it’s hard to connect with.
Still, Submarine is an undeniably adorable and unforgettable portrait of those awkward teenage years where you’re trying to make sense of yourself and the world around you. It’s captured brilliantly by Ayoade and the amazing cast he assembled. The two leads, Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige, have great chemistry and a great understanding of their character’s eccentricities. If I’m being honest, Submarine won’t be for everyone but, if you can get on board with it, you’ll find yourself revisiting it plenty of times.