I tried my absolute best to despise this film for five years. My impression from promotional images was that this was a piece of twee, misguided faux-Andersonian dreck plastered across a British background and filled to the brim with the pretentious, "quirky" mannerisms and stupid quotes to be mass-produced on moody Tumblr posts. And, for my part, I was more or less completely correct. Now now, don't go away. I was far too harsh on Submarine - I judged the book by the cover, and I was mad to do so, because this film is one of the most refreshingly realistic romantic comedies I've seen in a long time. Simultaneously managing to be sweet, witty, and just a little bit weird, Submarine uses art-film techniques for a remarkably accessible experience.
Directed by comedian Richard Ayoade (The IT Crowd, Was It Something I Said?), the film follows Swansea teenager Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, Being Human) and his strange, creepy obsessions with both his parents' love life and with Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige, The Sarah-Jane Adventures), a cold pyromaniac that he is desperately in love with. Tate narrates the film with a fast-paced string of sometimes-witty sometimes-cringey teenage observances about the world he lives in, and charts his efforts to both save his parents' flagging marriage and to woo Jordana. Obstensibly opening as a quirky romantic comedy, the film wanders through several shades of surrealism before settling in on our own reality, where Oliver must take responsibility for the stupid decisions he made trying to achieve both of his goals.
The film's Welsh aesthetic is breathtaking and feeds into the overall feel of the film, tying in loose, Andersonian references to French New Wave and classic Hollywood into maritime folklore. Ayoade spends a great deal of time deliberately muddying the waters between love and grief, and there are a few scenes which deal with certain characters' experiences with depression and hopelessness. Despite this bleakness, the film also feels quite warm - stoked with nostalgia of our own childhood mistakes, and eventually triumphant when despite cocking up massively, Oliver is implied to get everything he wanted. It's a bittersweetness which ends up falling very much on the side of sweet, and the film takes you through so many peaks and troughs of feeling that it really earns that final one-sidedness.
|I mean... you can tell why I thought this film was hipster trash,|
right? Look at this stuff. It's not, though, you should totally go
and see it.
One thing that makes Submarine work is that it isn't trying to be clever with its direction - it occasionally uses title cards and other stylistic flourishes, but these are all heavily functional and serve to enhance the film's mood. It's a story of two strange but highly identifiable characters, engaging with the rest of the world and attempting to find solace in their idea of "okay". I've been tempted throughout writing this review to call Submarine, "the British Moonrise Kingdom". But I've got a much different idea now, one that surprised even me when I decided I was going to write it.
Submarine is better. And that's the best accolade I can give.
NEXT WEEK: We discuss the artsy-fartsy Jim Jarmusch film, Broken Flowers.