Reviewed: Submarine

In our humble opinion, Richad Ayoade's original and hilarious tale of young love in Swansea is an early contender for best film of the year.
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In our humble opinion, Richad Ayoade's original and hilarious tale of young love in Swansea is an early contender for best film of the year.

Funny isn’t it? There once was a time when the prospect of watching British comedians ‘having a crack at The Movies’ in films like Magicians,Kevin and Perry Go Large or (shudder) Lesbian Vampire Killers filled me with an overwhelming sense of sweaty dread. Recently, however, they seem to have got the hang of it and a British comedy (In The Loop in 2009 and Four Lionsin 2010) has been my film of the year for two years in a row.

That trend looks set to continue in 2011 as Richard Ayoade – star of The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – releases his directorial debut Submarine. (Mind you, it’s still early days. I’ve haven’t seen Big Momma’s House: Like Father, Like Son or Yogi Bear 3D yet so who can say where this one’s going...)

Submarine is based on the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, which is without exaggeration one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Within the first chapter alone you get a discussion of pansexuality ("Pansexuals are sexually attracted to everything. Animate or inanimate, it makes no odds: gloves, garlic, the Bible..”) a bit where the protagonist vomits blueberry poptarts onto his neighbour’s Lotus Elise, and lots of lots of simply brilliant jokes:  “Depression comes in bouts. Like boxing. Dad is in the blue corner.” Dunthorne served as a script consultant for the film and helped ensure that many of these genius lines found their way into the screenplay.

The film stars Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate, a precociously articulate (but not in an annoying Dawson’s Creek kind of way) 15-year-old growing up in Swansea. His father is a Marine Biologist teetering on the brink of depression and his mother is about to embark on an affair with her spiritual guru, a ‘hippy-looking twonk’ played by the ever-excellent Paddy Considine. We follow Oliver’s disastrous attempts to bring his parents back together while simultaneously trying to lose his virginity to his insouciant (exactly kind of word he’d use) girlfriend Jordana.

Despite the fact that it should technically be classed as a ‘coming of age comedy-drama’ which is absolutely my least favourite genre of film ever (your fault Adventureland), Submarine feels entirely original and fresh – like no film I’ve ever seen before in fact. The script includes a fair amount of that Inbetweeners “your mum’s a gay” style humour but also manages a more grown-up and often poignant tone, including a devastatingly credible portrayal of clinical depression. It both looks and sounds amazing (Alec Turner from the Artic Monkeys helped out with the latter) and is filled with so many funky little stylistic touches. Ayoade is clearly in love with the medium of film and frequently calls attention to his many cinematic influences including Don’t Look Now, Love in the Afternoon and a sizable proportion of the French New Wave.

That, admittedly, kind of makes it sound annoying. But, don’t worry, it’s not like you need a Sight and Sound subscription or your own Tumblr blog to enjoy it or anything. Any time his film comes close to lurching off into wankland, Ayoade will undercut himself with a knowing and self-effacing irony. My favourite example of this is a scene that references the famous alka seltzer shot from Taxi Driver; itself an homage to Goddard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (I literally found that out on Sparknotes!) In Ayoade’s version, instead of a violently fizzing metaphor for Travis Bickle’s dissolving sanity, the camera lingers on a bowl of lumpy custard at School Dinners.

Best of all is the character of Oliver Tate, again one of the most original creations I’ve seen in the cinema for a long time. He is immensely likable, vibrant and funny yet, at the same time, capable of some pretty awful behavior: he unapologetically joins in with the bullying of the least popular girl in his class, is incredibly condescending to basically everyone and is unbelievably  callous when Jordana’s mum gets cancer (he also poisons her dog..) The Sopranos introduced us to the idea that charming and magnetic characters who do despicable things are always the most compelling. Submarine shows that you don’t even need to go to the effort of starting your own organised crime syndicate – you can basically achieve the same effect just by pushing a fat girl into a pond.

Star Rating: *****

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