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2 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Drowning in quirk."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2011: Watching "Submarine", I wondered about director Richard Ayoade's youth, speculating that he'd spent his time in the cinema, watching French movies rather than hanging out with other kids. There's an argument to be made that one is better off that way, at least until trying to make a movie about a teenager and winding up with a bunch of characters who only barely seem human, even once the thick crust of quirk is pulled back.

The teen is Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts); he's a smart but self-aware boy who decides he wants Jordana (Yasmin Paige) to be his girlfriend and sets out to make it happen. Since she's just as off-kilter and self-designed as he is, it does, albeit in a formal, self-examined way. There are some things at home which distract Oliver from Jordana, though - his new neighbor Graham (Paddy Considine) is not just a flashy self-help guru but his mother Jill's ex-boyfriend. Oliver is terribly worried that Graham will steal Jill (Sally Hawkins) away from father Lloyd (Noah Taylor), a rather bland marine biologist, so he starts planning.

Oliver is one of those movie kids who not only gives everything he does a lot of thought, but gives those things the same sort of thought as an adult screenwriter. So of course he narrates the film, peppering it with little comments that are meant to sound adult and sophisticated in his head while revealing his actual immaturity to the audience. Unfortunately, the line between "precocious but misguided" and "annoying little snot" can be a fine one, especially when the adult characters aren't particularly nuanced, and Oliver winds up on the obnoxious side on a rather consistent basis. Part of his deal is spying on his parents, and bits about "routine searches" of their bedroom start out kind of funny in their matter-of-fact delivery, but eventually Ayoade can't get the right contrast, and a sequence involving Jordana's dog later in the movie is just utterly misguided.

It's possible to breathe life into those sort of characters regardless, and Submarine occasionally manages it: There's a part of the movie, for instance, where Jordana needs Oliver to be the mature person he plays at and Oliver just may not be up to it. That feels true; that has Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige doing more than just spitting out clever lines. Unfortunately, it comes a little late in the game, after they've spent most of an hour being insufferable teenagers. Meanwhile, the adult cast isn't exactly doing great thigs either. Hawkins, Taylor, and Considine are all fine actors and each creates an amusingly memorable supporting character - Sally Hawkins, especially, delivers her lines with deadpan snap - they're isolated things. There's never a feeling of these characters being connected; even considering that we're meant to be seeing this from Oliver's perspective, which is self-centered and lacks adult insight, there's nothing about them together that explains him acting alarmed or desperate.

It's often not terribly hard to overlook some of these things; Ayoade has put together a good-looking movie. The cinematography is beautiful, suggesting arty black-and-white without actually looking like a pastiche, and every corner of the frame is filled with period detail (the film appears to take place in the 1980s) without it being in the audience's face. Ayoade doesn't quite manage the bouncy cool of the nouvelle vague or early Wes Anderson movies that seem to inspire it, but he comes close more often than not. The soundtrack is nice and not too on-the-nose.

The production is, in fact, nice enough as to make "Submarine" seem a lot closer to impressive than it is. Unfortunately, there's a real void at the center; Oliver doesn't give off signs of humanity until too late. That's not a problem for those who like this movie's particular set of trappings, but it can be rather trying otherwise.

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originally posted: 05/07/11 12:35:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2011 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Berlin International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Berlin International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

6/13/13 Ionicera looks good but too many cliches, quirkiness overload and unlikeable characters 3 stars
8/04/11 Daniel Kelly Superb acting and a very engaging screenplay. A must-see coming of age story. 5 stars
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  03-Jun-2011 (R)
  DVD: 04-Oct-2011


  DVD: 04-Oct-2011

Directed by
  Richard Ayoade

Written by
  Richard Ayoade

  Sally Hawkins
  Paddy Considine
  Noah Taylor
  Gemma Chan
  Yasmin Paige
  Craig Roberts

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