Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenwriter: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine
Richard Ayoade’s darkly humourous adaptation of Joe Dunthorpe’s coming of age novel Submarine is a movie that feels like a song by The Smiths wrapped in the sort of self-aware cinematic tropes that paint a picture of teenage nothingness as if it is most special and unique in its intricacies. It is the sound of our melancholic youth, a bright spot in the tragedy of our own ordinariness and an ode to the want-to-be intellectual in each of us; a film with the type of honesty, flair and quietly humourous tone we can each only wish for our own life stories, and a bloody good watch at that.
Craig Roberts is a revelation as bumbling intellectual misfit teenager Oliver Tate, a 15 year old school pupil with a talent for accidentally falling into problems both way larger than he can truly comprehend and way less meaningful than he may first assume, something each of us can identify with should we search our true selves for long enough. It is in his misfiring quest to solve such issues and bring about the most solace to himself that the story moves forward, introducing parents Jill (Hawkins) and Lloyd (Taylor) as well as manic pixie dream girl Jordana, the sort alternative, Doc Martens wearing teenager who deals with a crush by insulting them and is played pitch perfectly by Yasmin Paige.
The quietly established setting of 80s Swansea provides some visually stunning backdrops, the scenery of which is referenced directly by the lead as ‘making him feel nothing’ and is subsequently pushed to one side as roaming shots of his favoured walks by a dock or on the beach take its place, the autumnal hills instead being referenced only as notes of displeasure from there on out. The key settings of Oliver’s home and school juxtapose this with a blatantly clean and almost impersonal aesthetic that comes to represent the adulthood awaiting this pretentious teenager in his poster-laden bedroom filled with props like typewriters and cassette players, just in case you’d forgotten that he’s the second coming of Morrissey.
Like Morrissey, Oliver is flawed and at times difficult to like, but there’s something so inherently genuine about the character that he’s identifiable and easy to empathise with; his self-narrated journey mixing self-deprecating humour, harsh realities and fantasy elements to reinforce he is a person worth rooting for. Side characters like Paddy Considine’s Graham and Oliver’s own mother and father come to shape his story through their actions but they’re seen with an intellectualised innocence of youth that is somewhat magically captured in the work of Richard Ayoade and his actors, thus ensuring that Submarine is more than a movie time capsule or celebratory coming of age film, but instead an honest intrinsic analysis of how downright self-centred each of us can be in our youth.
Clearly taking inspiration from the cinematography and editing techniques of the French New Wave, Submarine lends itself to the sort of audience Oliver would inevitably become and as such transcends its genre in many ways, the quality of its presentation also ensuring it isn’t bogged down alongside so many other British releases of its time. With Alex Turner providing an original soundtrack to what is a genuinely engaging and funny story about the insignificance yet overwhelming feeling of youth, Submarine offers something unique and interesting that is certainly worth exploring whether you’re 15 or 55.