I’ve seen Richard Ayoade in a few things including The IT Crowd, a hilarious Britcom where he plays a socially awkward IT guy of the highest order. He is brilliant in the show but it didn’t prepare me for his superb directorial prowess. He directed the superb Pulp Fiction/My Dinner With Andre episode of Community earlier this year but even that didn’t let on just how good Ayoade is behind the camera. If there is one thing that Submarine has going for it, it’s the supreme technical craft of the film. Everything looks right, feels right, acts right. It’s a subjective film, we only see the events through the lens of Oliver Tate, and as such Ayoade is free to break reality as often as he wants. When Oliver mentions in an early voice over that this moment would be best suited to a rising crane shot but that the film of his life would only have the budget for a zoom out the frame predictably zooms out, even a bit awkwardly. People freeze while the camera moves and when his father talks about “being underwater” the next shot shows him hunched below the large fish tank previously hidden off-screen. But is that enough? Does the story work beyond the technical achievements?
Well, kinda. Mostly. Probably. Yes? The problem (or not) is that Oliver Tate needs a good slap in the face. He’s got a big ego with little to back it up. He’s the victim of bullying but bullies others in order to get the attention of a girl, Jordana Bevan. And she’s not immune to emotional problems. Their relationship seems to be based on doing as little as possible that could be perceived as actual fun. Or love. The practically torture each other, even though they both want to be with each other. It makes for difficult viewing. I just wanted to go into the screen and sit them down for a little heart to heart in the early goings. Tell them that they need to stop being so pretentious. Stop acting so uninterested in everything. Just enjoy things. Luckily, the film does that for me after the first section. With the reintroduction of Oliver’s mom’s old flame creating marital strife and Jordana’s mom having brain cancer these two teenagers are forced to deal with issues outside themselves. They’re kicked out of their own world and into reality, as much as they try to resist.
The acting in this film is phenomenal. Even if I didn’t care for the two romantic leads (Oliver and Jordana), their actors (Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige) perform them quite well. The adult actors play their roles well, too. Paddy Considine (pictured above rocking the silliest haircut I’ve seen outside a Coen brothers film) brings a kind of quiet humanity to a role that could have been over the top and silly, the spiritual new-age-y motivational speaker that used to date Sally Hawkins‘ Jill Tate (Oliver’s mom) before she married Noah Taylor‘s Lloyd Tate. This couple totally works. You can see why they were a good match for each other – the idea of Noah Taylor’s depressed, scraggly professor ripping his sweater vest off to woo Hawkins’ neurotic wannabe actress is one of the funniest images in the film, even though it’s not shown because they bring so much depth to such lifeless characters – and why they are drifting apart. This is where Oliver and Jordana could end up if they aren’t careful. So trapped in their own ways that seemingly nothing can break them out of their idiosyncrasies.
In fact, for all of my misgivings about the early parts of the film (which are spectacularly done, I must reiterate. I just couldn’t stand the characters), this story develops into something with real heart. It is, after all, a coming of age story – a bildungsroman, if you’ll allow me an English major word and let me justify the title of this blog – and Oliver and Jordana develop into better people. They understand that there is more than just their inner lives and that sometimes people screw up. They learn that relationships of any kind are hard to sustain and that the outcome is worth the effort. When the film ends you have hope that these two, and even the three adults, will be able to live with a little bit more compassion instead of the empty affectations they put on in the early goings. And it’s also quite funny. There are clever jokes and character moments and even filmmaking techniques that make the film flow with a quick wit and a quicker pace. Not since Edgar Wright‘s Hot Fuzz have I seen the kinds of filmic jokes found in this movie. It’s always good to see a joke whose punchline is a cut instead of an actual line. Ayoade’s technical and, more importantly, emotional awareness makes him a writer and director to watch out for.