Submarine is a charming film from British TV star and director Richard Ayoade (Moss from the IT Crowd) that you should see. This is his first feature—but you wouldn’t know it. The script, the direction, even the sets look like the work of a mature director. Yet it is to Ayoade’s credit that he makes an old genre, coming of age, something far more new and exciting; could it be that same inexperience working in his favor?
Submarine tells the story of a fifteen-year old boy, Oliver (Craig Roberts), with two goals: lose his virginity and keep his parents together. If his mother’s old beau (played by a wacky Paddy Considine) hadn’t moved in next door, this second checkmark may have been easier. As it is, he has better luck with his schoolmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), who, as he reasons at the movie’s start, may be unpopular, but is also less of a stretch as a girlfriend than anyone in the in crowd.
These two stories, told through Oliver’s imaginative voiceover, work together well, overlapping in a satisfactory saga of teenage angst. He’s honest, and he says what is on his mind, making his struggle much more accessible. Ayoade’s use of flashbacks, imaginative sequences, and montage works here because it feels like something a teenager would think; the stories in Oliver’s mind are the sort of filmic fantasies that a boy who frequents the local indie theatre would come up with. Not to mention that these sequences are edited well, seemingly allowing the audience into Oliver’s psyche without revealing all there is.
Only when the movie veered into the twee or the overly nostalgic did it lose my interest. Ayoade spends time quoting some of his favorite directors, especially Truffaut, which can feel derivative. Why so many shots of Oliver running on the beach if not to reference The 400 Blows?
Of course, it is Ayoade’s obsessions with these details that also draw me in. There is an odd fascination with Swansea, beige color schemes, marine biology, prisms, the beach, fireworks, and arson, which suggests that, well, let’s face it, Oliver is Ayoade and vice versa.
But it’s Alex Turner’s music that will stick with me. Turner, of the Arctic Monkeys, one of the biggest buzz bands of the last decade, provides some introspective, softly nostalgic tunes that encapsulate this movie for me. Sure, the Arctic Monkeys never became as big as the Beatles, or even Oasis, and Oliver may have never won the respect of his classmates or the world, but listening to these simple rock songs, it becomes clear that those things don’t really matter. There is something far more interesting lurking between the lyrics (and the dialogue breaks). In other words, Ayoade may not be the next Truffaut, or even Wes Anderson, but he could be something far more, for God help us, he is an auteur.