I don’t know about you but when NME describe someone as the “coolest man in London”, or such like, I instantly think they are probably the lamest. So, when they dubbed Richard Ayoade with this title, I fell out of love with the man who has starred in classics such as The Might Boosh and Nathan Barley and I instantly became less excited at the prospect of his debut film.
Submarine, adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne, is the film in question. Submarine is essentially a coming-of-age story set in Wales in the 1980s. The film’s hero, or anti-hero, is Oliver Tate, played by small-time TV actor Craig Roberts. Think Holden Caulfield or Rushmore‘s Max Fischer. He’s a slightly awkward character, not popular, not a complete loser but definitely bookish and pretentious in the way that teenage boys who read Camus are.
IMDb says 15-year-old Oliver Tate has two objectives: To lose his virginity before his next birthday, and to extinguish the flame between his mother and an ex-lover who has resurfaced in her life.
This is a hugely simplified explanation of what actually occurs during the film. Yes, of course he wants to have sex, as all boys do, but his infatuation with Jordana Bevan, played by Yasmin Paige, is a lot more complex than that. Jordana is a great character she’s very droll, quick-witted and smoulders in a unexpected way. She reminded me of Margot Tenenbaum, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums – she has the sharp haircut and smokes in a way that makes smoking look very cool and seductive (I know you’re not meant to say that, but it’s true).
Anyway, Jordana and Oliver begin seeing a lot of each other, which is presented to us in a series of scenes, which all feature romanticised back drops, such as a bath tub near a factory and folky, wistful music played by The Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner (which is nothing special to be honest). They are nice to watch but there is something just a bit too self conscious which stops it from being as charming as you would hope.
Meanwhile, as Oliver deals with his first relationship, we are offered a parallel relationship in the form of Oliver’s parents, played by Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins. His father Lloyd is a melancholic man, who used to be a presenter on the Open University series as a marine biologist. His mother, Jill, is in a dead-end job and is perhaps about to begin an affair with their new neighbour. The neighbour is played by Paddy Considine (Dead Man’s Shoes), which at first is hilarious as he plays a mullet-haired spiritual guru but then he just seems a bit wasted, as he’s never really explored as a character. He is literally just there for comedic effect. On that note there’s a blink and you’ll miss it moment with Ben Stiller, yes the Ben Stiller, who also happens to be a producer on the film, very random and also slightly redundant.
And what is the whole Submarine thing, you may be asking? You’ll soon see that there is an overused water metaphor used throughout the film. Of course, in any good bildungsroman, think Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, features water but the problem with translating it to film is that it can become rather too obvious, which is what happens here.
The film is structured like a book, with a prologue etc. Does this ring any bells? Well, it should – my main complaint with the film is its likeness to Wes Anderson films. I don’t have a problem with using similar techniques, Ayoade just went a step too far. What should have been charming and lovely was a tad hackneyed. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the film, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. Submarine is nice, but that’s about it.
Buy Submarine on DVD on Amazon now.