Film Review – Submarine

Submarine (2010, dir. Richard Ayoade)
Starring Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine

The directorial debut of British comedic actor Richard Ayoade has drawn unfair criticism for “being too much like Rushmore or Amelie”. Its easy to see how you could mistake this film for something like that, but after viewing the film it becomes apparent Ayoade has made an homage to French New Wave cinema. Ayoade takes those hipster affectations he’d being excused of exploiting, and actually frames them in a poignant look at the hyper-urgency of the adolescent mind.

Oliver Tate is an overly serious fifteen year old with a penchant for typing out formal missives when dealing with the typical ebbs and flow of the teenage years. He has recently begun seeking a relationship with Jordana Bevan, a “bad girl” who finds joy in bullying an overweight girl and who smokes incessantly. At home, Oliver is becoming increasingly nervous over the arrival of his mother’s old high school flame in the house next door. Oliver’s father, a stoic marine biologist has taken a non-confrontational angle on dealing with his wife’s growing chance of infidelity.

Ayoade shows remarkable talent for a first time director. Its obvious he is a lover of the French films of the 1960s, but he is also skilled at adding details to the novel which served as the source material. Because we’ve added the element of the visual to the story, Ayoade can toss in little details that add emotional weight to the story. In particular, Jordana’s wrinkled nose when Oliver attempts to kiss after he loses her virginity. That little expression conveys a lot of information about where the story is going.

While most coming of age stories focus on the loss of innocence, Ayoade goes the reverse route. Oliver sees our adulthood as when we lose the danger and edge of our youth. When he and Jordana’s relationship reaches a serious point, his internal thoughts tell us that he can see the moment when she becomes a mundane person. He pines away that he will miss when she tries to burn his leg hair with matches. Submarine is a very different look at adolescence, a sort of counterprogramming to the soap operatic Skins (which I love), and chooses to look at the ordinariness of what adolescents see as world shaking events.

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