Film Review: Submarine

Richard Ayoade’s Submarine is a remarkably well-executed debut. A coming-of-age comedy drama, the film has more depth than many other teen movies that deal with similar issues.

Teenage schoolboy Oliver Tate is navigating the labyrinth of adolescence. His two main preoccupations are getting a girlfriend and ensuring his parents stay together following their marital woes…

Submarine boasts great writing from Ayoade. The film is frequently humorous, and at times poignant. Submarine has been carefully crafted; the characters are well thought out and situations are both relatable and quirky.

Part of the film’s success can be attributed to the fact that the characters are easy to empathise with. Protagonist Oliver is not the typical teenage lead. This immediately makes Submarine more interesting, distinguishing it from other films with a similar theme. Oliver has the same concerns as many teenage boys. Yet his approach to these concerns is markedly different. The film opens with Oliver hypothesising about the affect his premature death would have. This includes a dream-like sequence which depicts the whole school in mourning. The set piece is bizarre, but also endearing. Oliver’s grandiose approach is amusing, but this does not detract from identifying with the teenager. It is easy to see why the issues in Oliver’s life are so critical to him.

The characters in Submarine retain a sense of believability because they are flawed. None of the characters are perfect, yet it is easier to empathise with some over the others. In keeping with these naturalistic portrayals, there are no good or bad characters, per se. Even Graham, who is envisioned as the enemy by Oliver, is not depicted as being entirely bad. Graham, like the rest of the characters, is a shade of grey.

Submarine features a number of references to film. Some of these nod to other movies, while others are more self-reflexive. At one point Oliver expresses a wish to be followed by a documentary film team, and the camera obeys his direction. While this is amusing, it also indicates an awareness of the cinematic process.

Performances are great in Submarine. Craig Roberts really embodies the character of Oliver, while Paddy Considine is wonderfully ludicrous as Graham. It is Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor who really stand out as Jill and Lloyd, however. Their deadpan performances inject a considerable amount of humour into the film.

Set as a three-chapter piece, the film does lose its way a little in the second part but recovers quickly. Overall, Submarine is a memorable tale.