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Submarine (15)

Rachel Winterbottom attends and Q & A with Richard Ayoade

Written by . Published on March 24th 2011.

Submarine (15)

Submarine’s writer/director Richard Ayoade’s sympathy with the socially dysfunctional is clear. Best known for his role as The IT Crowd’s socially tragic Moss, he also has directing credits for Vampire Weekend and the Arctic Monkeys’ music videos, and worked on subversive feats Nathan Barley, The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

As if the reality of his fame hasn’t quite yet hit, Ayoade isn’t thoroughly comfortable with interviews, and the Q&A session at the Cornerhouse’s preview of Submarine saw him true to form. He quietly averted the heftier questions about the future of the British film industry (‘Who knows?’), rebutted comparisons to Wes Anderson and was often vague and apologetic, confessing that he wasn’t quite sure why we’d all turned up. He even followed his unenthused answer to the last questioner of the evening (me) by admitting the session had concluded with an ‘air of depression’ (sorry about that). But he was funny. Answering one question of ‘Is the film better than you expected?’ with a daringly simple ‘No’. However, for those questions that did genuinely spark his interest, his articulate answers showed him to be of terrifying intelligence, and the audience left knowing why they’d turned up, even if he didn’t.

On paper, Submarine sounds like a deviation from Ayoade’s surreal offerings so far. It’s clear from the start, however, that like his previous projects, this features characters deeply submerged in their own sub-realities. With the ever-present threat of the real world threatening to seep in through the seams.

Set in Swansea, in the anonymous ’90s, the tale revolves around the lead character,15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who only wants two things in life. 1. To lose his virginity to the enigmatic Jordana before it’s legal. 2. To stop his mother from having an affair with a mystic and leaving his clinically depressed, fish-loving father.

Following a glorious two-week love affair (complete with montage) with the chain-smoking Jordana, the perpetually duffle-coated Oliver tries to move things onto the next step. Unfortunately, he accidentally gets perilously close to discovering the real Jordana beneath her leg hair burning ways, and he realises he’s out of his depth.

He then becomes consumed with stopping his mother Jill (the excellent Sally Hawkins, Made in Dagenham) from leaving his emotionally inept father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor). He doggedly pursues this goal through a combination of detective work, routine searches of his parents’ bedroom and shadowing Jill whenever she meets with Graham (played by Paddy Considine – Hot Fuzz – and a mullet), their mystic next door neighbour, possible ninja, and her ex-lover. Slowly, Oliver starts to come to terms with a very different reality to the one existing in his head.

In many ways, this could have been your typical coming-of-ager. A comedy drama about a young boy who is forced to grow up when he realises reality isn’t all he’s cracked it up to be. But not in Ayoade’s hands. He has created a darkly humorous – and sometimes, just dark – portrayal of first love, betrayal, sexual experience and self-discovery, with no easy resolutions.

Much like author Sue Townsend’s reality-oblivious character Adrian Mole, Oliver’s is a disconnected existence. The character indulges in flights of fantasy, directing the film himself as a memoir of his life, complete with prologue, part numbers, epilogue and poignant voiceover. But what the audience sees is a boy who overlays his version of the events over what’s actually happening, because the truth is harder to accept.

As a main protagonist, Oliver is refreshingly self-indulgent at times. He might be the put-upon hero of his interior monologue, but he can also be selfish and mean spirited. In other words, Oliver is a completely relatable example of a typical teenager. Who didn’t imagine the resounding impact of their death on the indifferent masses, popular kids and the resident school bullies? (Right?)

Craig Roberts embodies Oliver and all of his foibles exceedingly well. His film debut follows his appearance in BBC’s phenomenal Being Human (and spin off Becoming Human), and he stands out starkly against a backdrop of some quality British talent. The unruly object of his affection Jordana is played by an equally talented Yasmin Paige, who switches effortlessly between pyromaniac, manipulator and heart-wrenchingly troubled teen.

Based on the novel of the same name by poet Joe Dunthorne, Ayoade’s script is as sharp and witty as the source material. Only Ayoade has chosen, wisely perhaps, to steer clear of depicting one too many underage sexual experiences, instead pulling his camera away from the dirty deeds and letting each aftermath speak for itself.

Ayoade shouldn’t have been so shy about Submarine. Its beautiful, soft-focussed visuals, paired with a haunting soundtrack by Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner, takes you back to the long, hazy, days of a misspent youth you probably never have had. This debut feature is a consistently funny, sometimes hilarious, insightful and bittersweet gem of a film.


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D KesslerMarch 24th 2011.

For anyone who has seen the IT crowd but could not attend the Q&A last week: imagine Moss himself answering your questions, the guys doesn't act it, it's him!

The movie for one is brilliant.

Mark JorgensenMarch 24th 2011.

Looking forward to seeing this. With this & 4 Lions and a few others on the horizon its good to see top British comedians and writers making the transition to making good quality films.

PedantMarch 24th 2011.

It´s slightly worrying that you´re reviewing films when your mispelling of his name suggests you don't know who Paddy Considine is. Crikey. And I think it was set in the 80´s.

RachelMarch 24th 2011.

Pedant - Obviously I was thinking of Keanu Reeves. Much confusion. Ayoade said it was '90s in the Q&A. He said he wanted to date it, so it would never become dated. Bit of extra information there.

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