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Submarine

Presented by Ben Stiller

Richard Ayoade's Submarine is the kind of rule book-ripping debut that's all too rare in British film-making circles. Made with genuine artfulness, passion and a taste for experimentation that never gets in the way of the beating heart of the story, it's a film with confidence enough to be its own thing without chasing some mystical mainstream audience or stringently following the templates set by other successful alternative/indie films. Set in an unspecified Welsh coastal town sometime around the mid-1980s (Ayoade gently time-stamps the film with a passing reference to Crocodile Dundee, the odd mullet and the absence of mobile phones), it's the story of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), an awkward 15-year-old on a double mission to lose both his virginity - to his no-nonsense, pyromaniac classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige) - and prevent his parents' marriage from imploding. A bit of a fantasist, he's the sort of mildly unpopular kid who imagines the world would be devastated were he to die, and has a tendency to render memories of his limited romantic experiences as idealised Super-8 movie montages. He also wears a duffel coat, carries a briefcase and reads the dictionary for fun, traits that might make him sound face-punchingly contrived on paper, but seem true to the character on film. That's largely because Ayoade - hitherto best known as Moss from The IT Crowd - offsets any egregious quirkiness by ensuring that while Oliver is endearing, he's not always likeable. Blessed with a good heart, Oliver nevertheless frequently lacks the conviction to stand up for himself or face up to his own failings. Thus while it's easy to laugh as Oliver fakes the symptoms of the made-up sounding psychological conditions his mother is convinced he's suffering from, or finds himself reluctantly bullying an overweight classmate to impress the girl of his dreams, the vague sense of remorse he feels whenever he messes up gradually develops into a pervasive melancholia that makes the film resonate in deeper ways. This is a character whose coming of age is predicated not simply on the normal rites of passage, but on the realisation that teenage regrets can haunt us for the rest of our lives. As the film has it, simply being young and immature and hoping that such things won't matter when you're 38 aren't good enough excuses to avoid dealing with difficult things as a kid. Which sounds a bit heavy, but it's really not. Ayoade - who adapted the film from Joe Dunthorne's 2008 novel - has a lightness of touch that enables him to weave in more sophisticated themes in a way that seems organic rather than forced. That ability also extends to the dazzling array of film-making techniques he deploys. This is not a first-time filmmaker simply showing off what he can do. The use of New Wave-style jump cuts, still photography, freeze frames and Super-8 film clips plug us into the collage-like nature of his protagonist's teenage brain while gently mocking genre conventions. He's also perfectly cast his teenage protagonists. As Oliver, Roberts pulls off the Ben Braddock haircut and the sly mix of awkward introversion and hormonally charged recklessness with a great skill, nailing self-consciousness without ever appearing self-conscious himself. Paige is also brilliant as the forthright Jordana. Because everything is filtered through the prism of Oliver's heightened sensibility, she arguably has the trickier character arc to negotiate, including a potentially mawkish final act revelation that explains her earlier lack of sentiment. But she pitches everything so perfectly the character never hits any wrong notes. There's a lovely moment, for instance, after Oliver and Jordana sleep together for the first time. The scene is played mostly for laughs, but the way she curls her lip into a wonky smile as she looks at Oliver says more about the blissful confusion of teenage first love than all of Oliver's rarefied musings combined. As Oliver's stuck-in-a-rut parents, Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor also do good work. Their characters may be slightly less well developed, but that works in the film's favour. Oliver has a very common, teen-centric view of his parents and hasn't yet come to terms with the fact that they're real people with interior lives of their own. The film reflects that by marginalising them, but Hawkins and Taylor do enough on the fringes to make them feel believable; they're not just conduits for easy laughs. The same can't be said for Paddy Considine's Graham, a mystical guru and ex-boyfriend of his mother's whose ridiculousness Oliver fears isn't enough to prevent him from driving a wedge between his mum and dad. Graham is the one full-on caricature in the film, but Considine's willingness to embrace his mullet and mysticism with such conviction ensures he's funny enough for this not to be an issue in an otherwise bold and quietly brilliant piece of filmmaking. By Alistair Harkness, News.Scotsman.com Official Trailer
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Directed by: 
Richard Ayoade
Running Time: 
97
Country(ies): 
U.K.
Language: 
English
Starring: 
Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine
Screenplay by: 
Richard Ayoade, based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne

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