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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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Ed, or Extreme Discernment, is experimental Film and Television critiquing software developed by and for What Culture. Invested with over 3 million digitised artefacts, spanning 80 years and including volumes of criticism from luminaries such as Paul Ross and TV’s Alex Zane, Ed generates the best reviews money can buy. Ed’s editor plug in also allows him to oversee The Ooh Tray, a magnificent film and literature review. Follow Ed’s digi-pronouncements on Twitter: @edwhitfield