Submarine‘s writer and director Richard Ayoade is perhaps best known for his role as Moss in The IT Crowd, along with his appearances in cult comedies The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Yet as readers of his monthly Total Film columns will know, Ayoade is a lover of film and understands its construction on a cellular level. This love is evident in his debut feature directorial effort, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne.
Set during the 1980s in Swansea, the deluded 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, Jane Eyre) falls for classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige, The Sarah Jane Adventures) amidst a sea of troubles at home. His depressed father (Noah Taylor, Red Dog) and frustrated mother (the ubiquitous Sally Hawkins, Never Let Me Go) experience further problems with the arrival of her ex-boyfriend, a new-age guru (Paddy Considine, Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee).
Ayoade makes a stunning debut with Submarine, confidently announcing his presence on the cinematic scene. British cinema has had its share of stunning debuts over the last few years, including star Considine’s own Tyrannosaur, and we really shouldn’t be shocked at the sheer brilliance of British comedy anymore. Perhaps what is most surprising is that Ayaode’s characters, from Darkplace through The IT Crowd, have been socially awkward in some way, and with Submarine a voice is given to some of those characters, filtered through the eyes of a young adult with an old soul. Submarine is a pitch-perfect “coming of age” story, told through the pretentious adult voice of Roberts, although much of Ayoade’s and Dunthorne’s voice is undoubtedly there. It is completely self-conscious in its own cleverness, but this is the character of Oliver as well, a boy who reads the dictionary every day and drops the words he likes casually into conversations.
Seasoned actors like Considine get to have a bit of fun with their caricatures, but the performances from all of the young leads are amazing, bringing an authenticity to the young characters that other high-school dramas can only dream of. Oliver’s filtered “Super 8mm” memories exaggerate everything, signalling some influence from the earlier works of Woody Allen (his picture graces Oliver’s wall), and in particular the flashback sequences in Annie Hall. It is as though the collective film knowledge of a generation of mid-30s film buffs has been Quantum Leaped back into the body of a teenage boy, in an attempt to understand the pains and labours of young love. Shades of Harold & Maude pervade this darkly comic drama, and there are certainly parallels to be had with Wes Anderson’s earlier films and in particular Rushmore, although Submarine comes with a style all of its own. Perhaps the only true pitfall is the film’s short length, for these are characters that one wishes to spend a little bit more time with. Ayoade’s film is an instant classic.
Submarine will be released on 8 September 2011 in Australia from Madman.