Review: Submarine (2011)

Adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel, Submarine is a quirky indie-comedy that marks the feature film debut of actor/music video director Richard Ayoade.

Submarine tells the story of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a teenager in a small Welsh town with two goals: to lose his virginity and to prevent his mother (Sally Hawkins) from leaving his father (Noah Taylor) for her dance teacher (Paddy Considine).

However, Oliver’s attempts at adult interaction are hampered by a level of self-absorption that’s both witty and poignant in equal measures.

To some, the plot may sound fairly conventional, but Submarine refuses to succumb to common genre clichés to hold our attention. Instead it remains perfectly in tune with Oliver’s swirling, complex imagination, drawing us into his perspective, which in turn allows for an altogether more comprehensive, naturalistic view of his reality.

The script, despite its sometimes obvious lack of major revelations and twists, is packed to the hilts with heart, dry humour and cinematic love. So much so that Oliver’s strong, entertaining and incredibly eccentric story is left to thrive and impact our hearts in distinctive ways.

Ayoade, relishing in the opportunity to show his awareness of cinematic principles, subtly yet magnificently employs freeze frames, slow-motion and tightly framed close ups to accentuate the necessary thematic elements. It’s rare to see a director so in command and assured of film form so early in their career.

By bathing the peripheral scenes in abundant natural light, Ayoade immerses the film in a lustrous, and wholly naturalistic charm.

Alex Turner’s extremely emotive soundtrack punctuates the film in sporadic, beautiful and imaginative ways, heightening the stories overall emotional impact to abundant avail.

The casting is a revelation. Roberts is simply superb as Oliver, turning in a star-making, assured and above his age performance that sees him competently master both comic and dramatic aspects of the narrative. Yasmin Page, who plays Oliver’s love interest, delivers a notably intricate Jordana, portraying her as a thickset yet susceptible teenage girl.

Additionally, in key supporting roles, Taylor and Considine both turn in faultless performances as very opposing, yet equally tormented, middle-aged men. Hawkins, in possibly her most incandescent performance since her breakout in Happy-Go-Lucky, bedazzles as Oliver’s mum, displaying a priceless aura of reticent hysteria that manages to be both humorous and deeply affecting in equal measurements.

From the wonderfully written dialogue, to the astute visual style (reminiscent of Wes Anderson or Noah Baumbach) and the sincerity and winsome nature of the characters, Submarine is a mesmerising, outlandish and warm-hearted indie comedy, produced with such elegance that, if there’s any justice, should thrust Ayoade from relative obscurity to a true, unequivocal visionary.

In simple terms, it’s 97 minutes of absolute joy.

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