SIFF Film Review – Submarine
Recently premiering locally at the Seattle International Film Festival, and now playing in select cities, Submarine stars Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate, an awkward and self-conscious teenager whose internal monologue we hear throughout the film. While accurately described as a coming of age story, it is a quirky alternative to the typical tropes of the genre. The movie plays like a Welsh version of Wes Anderson’s Rushmore with its offbeat sense of humor.
Set during the 1980s and replete with video cassettes, clunky televisions, cassette tapes, and no cellphones, the thrust of the story concerns Oliver falling into his first love with Jordana Bevin (played by Yasmin Paige). He ends up doing some questionable things just to get her attention, like helping to bully the local “fat” girl, or allowing her to playfully burn things. Their interactions during their first “date” or their long walks on the beach feel genuine. He regards her in much the same way Scott Pilgrim felt about Ramona Flowers. These kids feel like kids. In a lot of ways, this part of the story begs comparison to the TV series Freaks and Geeks in that the teenagers feel real. They act like teenagers. Gawky, awkward, beautiful: this is the time of life when everything is felt more deeply.
Oliver’s love life finds its counterpoint in the troubled married life of his parents, wonderfully underplayed by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor. Oliver’s Dad seems to struggle with depression and seems to have forgotten how to express anything to his wife. Meanwhile, a former flame of Oliver’s mom moves in next door. Played by the hilarious Paddy Considine, he is a self-help guru with a series of somewhat successful videotapes about finding inner peace. Mom starts attending his seminars, and Oliver subtly encourages his dad to start paying attention to trouble there. I won’t ruin how this story resolves itself, but the way his parents’ story plays out is a highlight.
Director Richard Ayoade is mostly known in the U.K. for acting in TV series like The IT Crowd, Nathan Barley, and, probably most famously, The Mighty Boosh. He is also part of the fantastic Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, which, if you haven’t discovered it, I highly recommend seeking out! The humor in Submarine is very much in the vein of his TV work, such as the video messages from Considine’s character’s motivational speaker with their wonky 198os cheesy video effects and fuzzy imagery. And, throughout the film, Oliver’s narration leads to sporadic cutaways of what he’s actually thinking. Sometimes his fantasies, sometimes alternate time lines, but often his harsh realities are all used for comedic effect.
Submarine is a funny, quirky movie that deserves an audience. Hopefully in this summer of major blockbuster sequels it can find that audience. Highly recommended.
Final Grade: B+