Submarine, Dir. Richard Ayoade (2010)

Oliver (Craig Roberts) and Jordana (Yasmin paige) experience growing pains in a small town in South Wales.

Richard ‘Moss’ Ayoade  directing and writing his first film could go either way: self indulgent vanity project or quirky off-beat gem. Thankfully this film is the latter. Submarine, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, charts the story of 15 year-old Oliver Tate (19 year-old Craig Roberts), a geeky loner growing up in South Wales in the 80s. Oliver falls desperately in love with a girl at his school, the cynical and disdainful Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and plots to charm her into bed with him (losing your virginity, as countless films show, being the most important thing for any teenage boy). He also has to deal with the problems of his very middle-class and prudish parents Jill and Lloyd (Sally Hawkins-who is unrecognisable from previous roles -and Noah Taylor). Lloyd, a marine biologist, suffers from manic depression and often sits staring into space; while Jill, a frustrated office administrator, is having an affair with their next door neighbour Graham (Paddy Considine), an arrogant spiritual guru with one of the most ridiculous mullets in cinema’s history. An affair which Oliver suspects and brings upon himself to investigate.

The cast are brilliant without exception, and the film is peopled with great and memorable characters. Roberts as Oliver portrays well the insular melodramatic angst of an unpopular teenager trying his best fit in and find an identity for himself, which involves things like phases of only listening to French singers. His rushed breathless recitation of facts also suggesting autistic tendencies. His awkward and nervous attempts at seducing Jordana, including taking Jordana to an industrial site after she tells him how much she dislikes romance, are touching and funny. As are his desperate and obvious attempts to keep his parents together by such methods as inventing  a seductive letter from Lloyd. Jordana, meanwhile, could’ve been a very dislikeable character, she is sarcastic and joins in bullying an overweight girl at school; but there is a vulnerability underneath her casual carelessness, and her behaviour is made clear when we learn her mother has a terminal illness. The scene where we witness Jordana’s disappointment as she realises Oliver is not going to come to see her mother in hospital (Oliver still investigating with her is particularly poignant.

The parents are particularly hilarious in their misjudged attempts to help Oliver. The scenes where Lloyd gives Oliver mix tapes for the beginning and ‘inevitable end’ of his relationship, and Jill matter of factly admits to giving Graham a hand job, are hilarious. Considine is equally funny as the intense Graham, a character which expertly satirises New Age nonsense with his talk of light prisms.

The visuals, brilliant for a first film, are also worth commenting on as Ayoade often uses slo-mo effectively to emphasise the drama of certain moments, such as when the bullied overweight girl falls into a pond and Oliver realises how horrible it was of him to join in the bullying. His editing technique also heightens the humour in the film, such as when Oliver challenges and approaches a school bully to win back Jordana and in the next shot we see him dazed and confused with a bruised face.

This is a film then which is not only visually striking  but also genuinely insightful, highlighting the cruelty of adolescents to each other and the massive impact parents have on their children, as well as just how earth-shatteringly dramatic and tragic-comic it is when you first fall in love. British cinema needs more films like this, and I can’t wait for Mr. Ayoade’s next film.


1 Comment

  1. Yasmin recently played the part of Nicky in Spoof or Die , a short film which was part of Channel 4′s Coming Up 2012 season and was directed by Prasanna Puwanarajah .

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