A comedy which follows a 15-year old boy with two objectives: to lose his virginity to the girl of his dreams before his next birthday, and to stop his mother from leaving his father and hooking up with a new age mystic.
“We’re all travelling under the radar”, claims Oliver Tate in Submarine. If Richard Ayoade has been travelling under the radar thus far in his career, or perhaps, more precisely, blipping at the edges of our sonar screens with his work in the IT Crowd, Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and the Mighty Boosh, it is with Submarine that he has made a burst towards our vessel on a certain collision course.
Those watching his career a little more closely will know that he’s masterminded a handful of music videos for the likes of Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys, and so finally turning his hand towards a feature film has been a while coming. Thankfully it’s every bit as good as you want it be.
Submarine stars Oliver Tate (Roberts), and I say “stars” as this 15 year old welsh protagonist views his entire life as if a film was being made about himself, occasionally commenting on the type of fade-outs about to happen, or the fact that at such a point there’d be a crane shot but, unless something dramatically changes in his life, there would only be the budget for a zoom-out. He lives with his parents Lloyd (Taylor) and Jill (Hawkins), secretly surveying their every move and tracking their sexual activity through the use of the dimmer switch in their room.
Oliver’s relationship with Jordana (Paige) begins when, after bullying a girl into leaving school together, she meets Oliver underneath a bridge to record their first kiss with dozens of polaroids and a diary entry. Now there is proof, she says, that he might not be gay.
The film follows this relationship, alongside the rocky one of Oliver’s parents who, aside from not having sex for seven months, have new problems when an old boyfriend of Jill’s, the mulleted mystic played beautifully by Paddy Considine, moves across the road.
Submarine works so brilliantly because of the relationships between these characters. The parents are fantastically awkward with Oliver, and give him some sage relationship advice whilst they are classically falling out of love with each other. Considine’s Graham Pervis is a creepy, intrusive, faux-magnanimous cock who grinds on every character but Jill, and Oliver’s mates are monumentally stupid and rude. Ayoade is bang on with his portrayal of kids at school as malicious little shits, no example being better than when Oliver’s “mate” passes him a note which he opens to reveal the message “anyone who opens this is a cock-riding twat”.
And then there’s the relationship between Jordana and Oliver, which is beautiful in its odd juxtaposition of personalities. Oliver, the super-nerd, introspective “prominent thinker” and the ballsy, sweary bully who chastises Oliver for “living up a fucking hill” before a supposedly romantic date. Ayoade also captures all the troubles and pitfalls of early school relationships and being a teenager magnificently, without using any, and I mean any, clichés and cheesiness.
If there is a fault to this film it is that at times it might try too hard, be too cool, but then that fits with Oliver’s own sense of self-importance. Most of the time, however, it is a wonderful combination of hilarious character comedy with sumptuous cinematography from a director that quite clearly has a deep love of cinema classics, most notably Harold and Maude and The Graduate, which Ayoade has listed as some of his influences.
And why is it called Submarine? Because, we don’t radiate our thoughts and feelings like sonar, we can never truly know why someone does what they do, or why they feel a certain way. “We’re all travelling under the radar”, as Oliver says, “and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Well we know why Ayoade makes films for certain: because clearly he’s bloody good at it.