Review: SUBMARINE - Literate, Heartfelt and Funny.

rating: 5

The comic actor Richard Ayoade has gifted audiences a magnificent debut with this adolescent fable. It€™s charming and idiosyncratic, managing to be sweet without being sentimental, profound without being whimsical. Perhaps best of all its exploration of a teen€™s underground existence is devoid of cliché. Directed with great confidence and a good eye for character-based quirkiness, of the kind so successfully personified by Ayoade himself, the key to Submarine€™s success is building the world of the film around Craig Roberts€™ awkward protagonist. It plays like an extension of his character, a character that knows he€™s occupying his own story. The structure is lifted from the source novel and the film is self aware like a story written in the first person. Each intertitle €“ €œPrologue€, €œPart One€, etc, is accompanied by a dramatic musical cue reflecting the importance Oliver attaches to each set of events. Doesn€™t every introspective teen imagine their lives this way? Occasionally Oliver€™s imagination intrudes on the shape of the movie; he imagines that one scene in his biopic would only have the budget for a zoom out and that€™s what we get, he thinks of his new relationship with Yasmin Paige€™s moody and magnificent Jordana as a super 8 film and we€™re watching it. This might read as self-indulgent or postmodern but it€™s nothing so trite. Submarine is a closed world like the best stories, a complete movie in every sense. The submarine is the perfect metaphor for the invisible loner and stealth existence that many teenagers imagine they€™re experiencing under the noses of aloof kith and kin. The movie runs with it with enough maritime motifs and allusions to stock a Hemingway short story. Oliver's a sublime creation; literate, curious, detached; the kind of kid that has a favourite industrial area and sees his parents and peers as subjects to be studied. Never quite sure where to look, duffle coated and brief cased, he€™s passing through a deep, hidden world of strange beauty, colourful oddities and darkness. He negotiates a series of depth charges; losing his virginity, his mother€™s suspected affair with a new age old flame, scavenging for self-understanding; emerging shaken but in tact. Everyone€™s adolescence is charted along the same perilous course, if only we had the wit to see it. Here€™s a film that does and although it has a few unnatural advantages in that respect, not least the hindsight of both its director and original novelist Joe Dunthorne, there€™s the illusion of spontaneity and freshness in these observations. It€™s a film that never fails to connect with its audience. It€™s not ostensibly a period piece but Submarine plays like a childhood remembered rather than a contemporary account. Ayoade may have wanted to root the film in his own youth, by way of relating to Oliver, hence the signature elements of contemporary teendom €“ the web, the smart phone, the slang, are all mercifully absent. Submarine is a film that loves language and doesn€™t feel compelled to butcher it for the sake of offering up a kind of fool€™s realism. Oliver Tate€™s world is one of typewriters, videotape and cassettes; characters whose style is conspicuously aged. Oliver€™s father was, in recent memory, an archetypal Open University TV presenter, suggesting the film is set in the Eighties but it remains undefined. The effect for someone like me, who€™s the same age as Ayoade, is a very personal kind of nostalgia that isn€™t affixed to times and dates. Similarly there€™s a yesteryear aesthetic to Alex Turner€™s songs, inspired by Scott Walker€™s album of Jacques Brel material. The cumulative effect is to give the film the character of something like an aged whisky; it€™s perfect now but seems sourced from another time. It€™s a wonderfully mature piece of work. In both its style and preoccupations, cineastes will appreciate Ayoade€™s invocations of Eric Rohmer, who€™s mentioned, and Jean-Jacques Beineix, as well as the fact that he€™s managed to make a film that equals their best work. In addition to the director€™s French fancies, there€™s also a hint of Woody Allen€™s neurotic wit in Oliver€™s words, so perhaps it€™s unsurprising that Allen€™s face adorns the boy€™s bedroom wall. It€™s hard to tell but I€™d have marked it down as an approving look. Literate, heartfelt and funny, Submarine is a mesmerising film brought to life by sterling work on both sides of the camera. Make time for it. Submarine is released in the U.K. tomorrow.
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