For his directorial debut, Richard Ayoade chose to adapt the coming-of-age novel, Submarine by Joe Dunthorne. With his deft application of French New Wave techniques, a spot-on performance by Craig Roberts and original music by Alex Turner, the front man for “The Arctic Monkeys,” Ayoade has given us an endearingly quirky film. Submarine follows 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Roberts) as he makes plans to lose his virginity to his new girlfriend while helping his parents rekindle their romance and attempting not to be dragged underwater by the overwhelming realities of growing up. You can read Matt Goldberg’s review here and see all our previous coverage here. Hit the jump for my review of the Submarine Blu-ray.
From the outset, Submarine won me over with its tongue-in-cheek charm by way of an introductory letter from Oliver Tate. In it, the film’s protagonist addresses his American audience and tells us that the following film is a biopic of himself, a young man in Wales. After giving us some facts about Wales (such as it being the birthplace of Catherine Zeta-Jones) and thanking us for not invading the country, Oliver asks us to watch the film with respect.
The movie is then laid out much like a novel, with a prologue, three titled acts and an epilogue. The prologue introduces us to Oliver Tate, who narrates over the majority of the film as we watch. Roberts’ performance makes us believe that he is not acting, but simply being. Oliver Tate comes across as an introverted and idealistic person rather than a character from a book. The conflicts he finds himself involved in are both believable in their simplicity and audacious when seen through Oliver’s perspective. His ideal and unrealistic vision of the world is no more apparent than in the prologue where he imagines his death to bring about nationwide mourning and despair, only to be brought back to the ground as his teacher catches him passing a note in class.
“Part One: Jordana Bevan” focuses on the budding relationship between Oliver and the aforementioned Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige). Oliver approaches this new facet of his adolescence with the ignorance and hormonal ambition of youth, though he tries to apply the idealistic clichés of cinema and soap opera romances, with disastrous results. Early in their relationship, Oliver takes scenes of his memories and splices together a Super 8 short film montage overlaid by an original song by Turner.
It’s hilarious to watch Oliver stumble his way through inviting Jordana over to his house to have sex. The awkwardness of adolescence and Oliver’s misguided attempts to recreate ideal memories from Hollywood templates are seen through his frantic and chaotic monologue, his well-intended establishment of a romantic ambience (candles and red balloons and a dimmer-switch set to half) and his expectant staring at the door as a nearby clock ticks. Although things seem to be going well for Oliver, his parents Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and Jill (Sally Hawkins) are starting to worry him.
“Part Two: Graham Purvis” takes Oliver through his post-coital relationship with Jordana, but also through his investigation of his parents and their dissolving relationship. A self-help guru, Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) has moved in next door and just so happens to be his mother’s first love. As Jill sees Graham more and more frequently, Oliver feels that it’s in his best interest to inform his father and keep an eye on his mother.
Oliver’s quirks come out more than ever in this second part and we begin to see that his unique personality is most likely a result of his depressed father and his neurotic mother. Oliver tends more towards his father (drinking hot lemon, wearing bathrobes and sulking about the house), though he realizes the man is not as flashy or inspiring as the hokey mystic, Graham. At one point, Oliver remarks that if his father were to radiate a color, it would be ochre or eggshell. His father is a man that has the pothole helpline committed to memory.
As tensions increase between Oliver and his dysfunctional parents, he decides to take his troubles to Jordana. Here, he finds that Jordana’s mother is afflicted with a brain tumor. In Oliver’s ideological mind, he reasons that terminal illness trumps parental infidelity and that he must handle his problems on his own.
In the concluding “Part Three: Show Down,” Oliver sides with his father while his mother spends more time with Graham. More importantly, he kicks Jordana to the emotional curb due to his own rationalization and the pressure from his friends. Though she asks him to be with her during her mother’s upcoming surgery, Oliver feels that his place is by his father’s side.
In a hilarious sequence, Oliver breaks into Graham’s house to ransack the place and appear deranged. He then passes out from taking his father’s depression medication and wakes up in his bed to hear his mother’s admission that she gave Graham a handjob in his van. For as dry and as deemphasized as the humor is throughout Submarine, this line caught me by surprise.
Submarine’s epilogue features Oliver reflecting on the past few weeks of his life as an older person, though he admits he doesn’t exactly feel like he’s come of age. Arguably, Jordana has grown more throughout the film, but we only see this through Oliver’s perception. In the film’s final moments, we find that Oliver’s parents have patched things up due in a roundabout way to Oliver’s interference. And although the majority of the film disparages the idea of life reflecting art (or vice versa), the final scene between Oliver and Jordana does just that.
The humor throughout Submarine is hard to pin down. It’s both sublime and dark, dry and, at times, overt. It’s definitely not for everybody. Though Submarine has been compared to Scott Pilgrim vs the World in terms of coming-of-age, I’d peg it more in the genre of Napoleon Dynamite. While I feel that Submarine is vastly more intelligent and has a stronger undercurrent of plot than either of the aforementioned films, its spirit is similar. Ayoade’s direction and vision give a cohesive and many-layered final cut that is both beautiful to look at, hilarious to listen to and quite moving to experience, though sometimes painful in its reminiscence.
- Jordana on Oliver’s Imaginary Death
- Jordana Bevan’s Back on the Market
- The Graham T. Purvis System
- What is Light? (extended)
- I Am a Prism (extended)
- Color Blockers
- Nonage: A Period of Immaturity
- Tryptophan – hilarious dinner scene at the Tate’s
- Rights & Responsibilities
The Making of Submarine
A ten-minute featurette with thoughts from director Richard Ayoade and stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine on their influences by coming-of-age works, experiences working on the film and the differences between themselves and their characters.
Submarine, a film by writer/director Richard Ayoade and executive producer Ben Stiller, stars Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Golden Globe-winner Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and Paddy Considine. The Rated R film is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p at a runtime of 98 minutes.