By Leila Alapour
Oliver Tate, the central character of Richard Ayoade’s feature film debut “Submarine,” believes that most people wrongfully think of themselves as unique individuals. The pompous teenager is also convinced that he is so prominent a thinker that his every move should be filmed and compiled in a documentary. Based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, this hilarious and often twisted coming of age story artfully allows Oliver (Craig Roberts) to direct his own life movie. The movie plays out the rather average life of the young teen accompanied by the narration of his inner thoughts — highlighting the contrast of his heroic self-perception with the reality of how the people in his life actually view him.
The somewhat rigid and definitely awkward schoolboy has two goals in life: first to lose his virginity as he tackles his first relationship and secondly to reignite the spark that he has noticed missing in his parents’ marriage as he monitors their sex life on a day-to-day basis. The character development only adds to the quirky humor of the plot as we discover that Oliver’s father is a chronically depressed marine biologist with a passion only for fish. (Not very exciting compared to Graham, the psychic showman who arrives back in town who also happens to be Oliver’s mother’s ex-lover.)
In a film era where writers and directors promote in-your-face humor, Ayoade pleasantly surprises his audience with refreshing subtleties and quirky dialogue.
The story is time-ambiguous, but we are given some sense of the era when a VHS appears and Oliver’s dad lends him a cassette tape: one side with songs to celebrate his new relationship and the other to prepare him for the inevitable breakup. The simplicity of the set highlights the childish innocence and playfulness of young love, running through industrial sights, meadows and the beautiful Welsh scenery, wonderfully portrayed by the actors playing Oliver and his rebel of a girlfriend, the fire-happy and mystifying Jordanna (Yasmin Paige).
The music by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys and Ayoade’s brilliant directing perfectly capture the over dramatization of teenage perception while the dark and twisted humor of the film will also resonate with older audiences. The artistic cinematography is slightly over done perhaps at times, but Submarine is still a must see amongst coming of age movies and Ayoade’s directorial debut is very promising for the future.
Submarine (97 minutes, at area theaters) is rated R for language and some sexual content.
Leila Alapour grew up in the DC MD metropolitan area. She is a student at Duke University and a Program Associate at the Washington Film Institute. Her favorite movie is The Band’s Visit (2007).