Submarine is the directorial debut of actor and performer Richard Ayoade, well known for his role as Moss in The IT Crowd. Whether you liked The IT Crowd or not, Submarine won’t necessarily be what you’d expect – it’s a wry and gentle coming-of-age comedy-drama.
Like, say, Napoleon Dynamite, it probably isn’t going to leave you rolling in the aisles, though you will laugh, especially if you happen to have been a teenager in the 1980s, setting out on your first tentative steps to adulthood.
Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) lives in Swansea, and is struggling to come to terms with his humdrum existence. He has a close circle of friends (well, two, it seems) and quietly in love with Jordana (Yasmin Paige) – he even torments a fellow classmate to get closer to Jordana and impress her. He justifies this behaviour with affected language and overly complex analysis, narrated by Roberts, acting like the victim to his emotions. He’s not a bad boy without moral values – he’s just a teenager in love.
Oliver’s attempts to advance his relationship with Jordana are beset by a variety of obstacles, least of which is the reappearance of his mother’s ex-boyfriend, vain life guru Graham (played brilliantly by Paddy Considine), which threatens to upset the passionless marriage in which she’s found herself.
Oliver balances his love for Jordana with his investigation into his mother’s furtive relationship with Graham. Oliver’s depressive father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor), seems to have accepted the state of his marriage with gloomy resignation, despite attempts at provocation from Oliver. Oliver isn’t going to let their marriage die, and begins to meddle in matters he’s too young and naïve to understand. While all this happens, he discovers a brutal truth about Jordana’s life, bringing his own troubles into sharp focus, and causing him to make a few, quite severe, errors of judgement in the process.
Realising that it’s possible to fall too far in love, Oliver sets out to repair his parents’ lives, only to discover that real life is far from the world of perfect films that he watches, or the ideals he has applied upon the world around him. He realises that his behaviour has consequences, although these are never explored in an overly moralistic way or depressing manner.
Craig Roberts carries the film as the central character. He may be pretentious, but he’s never dislikeable. His pseudo-intellectual narration lies in stark contrast to his awkward teen life, and his monologues are filled with acerbic, withering observations about his life and those around him. Oliver’s imagination runs wild, and we’re often treated to an insight into the surreal mind of a teenage boy who reads Nietzsche and spouts philosophy. Roberts performs with conviction, showing he’s a talented actor with wonderful comic presence.
Richard Ayoade’s film is beautifully shot, and he adopts a personal, warm style of filming. His script, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, creates a world familiar to many of us. It’s never sickly sweet, nor is it depressing and morose. In fact, it pretty much avoids the many clichés that have dogged teenage films throughout the last few years. He’s a self assured director and writer who, throughout this film, evokes an effective, touchingly emotional response from the viewer.
The soundtrack features original tracks from Alex Turner (Ayoade had directed Arctic Monkeys At The Apollo) and Andrew Hewitt (who had worked with Ayoade on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Man To Man With Dean Learner). It would have been easy to just include 80s music, but Turner and Hewitt’s work provides a perfect accompaniment to Ayoade’s script and direction.
The best way to describe the film is as a coming of age comedy-drama shot in an amazingly captivating, artistic style. Clearly a film fan, Ayoade presents much of the film as if it were the work of a classic French auteur, with deep and meaningful moments captured perfectly through minimal, stark images. It’s not a work of pretension, nor is it parodying the style – instead, it offers an accurate representation of the way many of us probably saw our teenage years.
Not a film for those who love gross-out or broad American comedies, Submarine is a coming-of-age film that doesn’t tread the all-too familiar territory of a Mean Girls or American Pie. If you were ever an awkward teenager with delusions of grandeur who fell in love, then this film would be a love letter to your youth – especially if you were a teen in the 80s.
The DVD has a mixed bag of extras, which feels fitting for this film. Ben Stiller’s Video Message was sent to the crew during the shoot in the rainiest autumn on record. Stiller, having acted as executive producer, plays down his involvement in the film in a wonderful comic moment.
Some extended scenes present an extension to Graham’s lifestyle workshop, giving Considine a showcase as he delivers a monologue about light and life. There are also ten deleted scenes that explore more of Oliver’s life and the world he inhabits. It’s a pity they’re not included in the film, as they’re just as interesting as what ended up on screen. They range from the sublime (scenes with Oliver’s friends and family) to the ridiculous (Jordana’s discussion of Oliver’s imagined death).
Elsewhere, there are a pair of Q&A sessions, one filmed at the London Comedy Festival, and the other at the Glasgow Film Festival. Ayoade is extremely funny in both.
Test Shoot is an extended camera test, which took place before shooting began, and Through The Prism is the full sixteen-minute version of the self-help video that is seen in the film, with Paddy Considine in character as the vain Graham Purvis. Considine is fantastic, talking about his life and his work on the (fictional) TV series Heatseekers (described as the new Doctor Who), and his life after this huge television success. There’s a sense of Garth Marenghi to this character, who thinks he is far more important than he really is.
The disc also contains interviews with the principle cast and last, collectively, just under 25 minutes. Clearly from an electronic press kit, there’s not going to be anything controversial here, with cast and crew talking about the casting, filming and story of the film.
Piledriver Waltz is the video used during the imaginary film that Oliver creates to show two weeks of love with Jordana. Shot as an 80s home movie, it’s a montage of scenes featuring Jordana and Oliver backed by the smoky vocals of Alex Turner.
The audio commentary features Richard Ayoade, Joe Dunthorne (who wrote the book) and Eric Wilson (director of photography). Often going off on tangents, Ayoade leads us through the making of the film and his inspirations, while we explore the characters through the mind of Dunthorne.
The commentary doesn’t feel like the three have thought about what they’re going to say – instead, they talk openly, honestly and occasionally stiltedly about what is going on. It does occasionally slip into silliness but, on the whole, is thoroughly engaging.
You can rent or buy Submarine at Blockbuster.co.uk.