VOD film review: Submarine
Ivan Radford | On 25, May 2013
Director: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page
Watch Submarine online in the UK: All 4 / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
“I was conducting a routine search of my parents’ bedroom…” It’s a sentence you don’t hear much these days – unless you’re called Oliver Tate (Roberts), you live in Wales and you imagine your whole life plays out like a movie.
With his briefcase and duffle coat, you wouldn’t be far wrong labelling Oliver as Adrian Mole’s Cambrian cousin, or the Rushmore of Swansea. He even has an older girl to chase. Fortunately, though, Richard Ayoade’s periscope reaches above his peers and shows us something unique. It mostly involves setting fire to things.
It’s an amazing achievement for the IT Crowd and Mighty Boosh actor: who knew that the hirsutely-gifted Ayoade could wield a camera with equal flair? A dream for film-buffs and alienated geeks alike, the whole thing is steeped in French New Wave, apeing Truffaut and Godard with bowls of cold custard and ocean panoramas. The freeze frames and fade outs give Oliver’s mundane Welsh life a gorgeous cinematic sheen. But the director’s indulgence never gets in the way of the sharply honed script. In fact, it supports it.
Charting Oliver’s obsession with Jordana (Page), Submarine celebrates the mundane via Oliver’s overblown narration. He describes how certain moments in his story would be filmed with a sweeping crane shot, before predicting that his imaginary film crew would only have the budget for a slow zoom out. It’s a brilliant match between speech and visuals, and one that Ayoade keeps up – one stand-out scene frames a silent family breakdown alongside Brussels sprouts and leaves you LOL-ing through your nose.
Oliver’s quest to vanquish his virginity contrasts nicely with his parents’ sex-free marriage. His mum (the excellent Sally Hawkins) and dad (Noah Taylor) struggle through the motions while Oliver attempts to bring their bedroom’s dimmer switch back down to halfway. So to speak. Things aren’t helped by the arrival of new age hippy Gramam (Paddy Considine), Mrs. Tate’s former lover.
Meanwhile, Oliver is reliving his romantic memories on Super-8 film. The kind of 15 year old who has posters of Alain Delon and models himself on J.D. Salinger, he’s a self-obsessed, precocious brat. We should hate him, but Craig Roberts is too charming for that, while Yasmin Page nails the alluring appeal of a young boy’s first love. With the exception of Paddy Considine’s mystic, whose broad comedy performance is perhaps out of place, everything is underplayed to a deadpan extreme – a wonderful example of restrained talent.
Ok, so Alex Turner’s soundtrack is perhaps a little overused in place of Andrew Hewitt’s score, but it matches the mood of Ayoade’s visuals. A delicate and winning adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s novel, you wonder how much of Richard himself is in the movie: it aches with first-hand experience, from the vaguely late-80s setting to the pangs of rejection. This isn’t quite the flawless masterpiece that some have heralded it to be, but it’s as close as you can get, especially from a debut director. Submarine’s twee tone draws your emotions out, and then drags you down hook, line and sinker.
Submarine is available on All 4 until 13th May 2021.