Richard Ayoade, who came to prominence by performing with relish in the
Channel 4 sitcom, The IT Crowd, also did a side bit of directing music
videos, primarily for the English indie band, The Arctic Monkeys, even
directing their only live DVD, as well as Alex Turner's (lead singer of
the Arctic Monkeys) side project, The Last Shadow Puppets.
Submarine, is his feature debut as both writer and director, adapting
the novel by Joe Dunthorne.
The novel follows the erstwhile Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), as he
comes across first love for the first time with the equally tenacious
Jordana Baker (Yasemin Paige), whilst trying to keep his parents
marriage together. This juxtaposition of young love with the
dwindling of the adult relationship is a clever trick of Ayoade's
The script includes numerous callbacks throughout - Oliver mentions how
he reads the dictionary looking for obscure word of the day's and then
when his father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor) uses an obscure word (in this
case, atavistic) it prompts him to look it up. Oliver is the type
of young male who uses words like schism to explain the current
obstacle affecting his parents relationship; and the constant referring
to the depth of the ocean (six miles) which is brought up initially and
then recalled on two more occassions later in the film.
The work that Ayoade most resembles is that of Wes Anderson - this film
and Anderson's are quirky, literate (the film is presented with three
parts as well as a prologue and epilogue) and perhaps a bit too clever
for itself, yet is not ashamed to use big displays of public emotion,
which ultimately leaves the characters flummoxed. Another trait
they share is that all the characters know a character better than
themselves; after their first intercourse, Jordana tells Oliver, 'Don't
get cocky', the formal warning of the phrase serves as an intuitive
part of Jordana in forewarning how this may affect Oliver when he gets
to 38 years of age, as he fears for a moment.
The period detail of the mid to late 1980s is immaculately rendered and
yet the film could have been located in any post World War 2 period due
to the universal themes - first love, bullying, infidelity, the fear of
a broken home and cynicism of other belief systems. Yet Ayoade is
able to inject nice typically British quirks on the school theme and
the usual close conversation between concerned teacher and timid
student. As Oliver is talking to the teacher about his fears, a middle
shot is set up with them at the forefront backing onto a window onto
the playground, and behind them students jump up and down mocking the
serious situation whilst gesticulating for all to see, whilst the two
people indoors are oblivious to it all.
All the actors on display are brilliant; Taylor and Sally Hawkins as
Oliver's unhappy parents are both given key scenes to show off
(especially Hawkins when she talks to Oliver in bed, and it ends up her
worrying he might be gay), Paddy Considine hams it up as next door
neighbour-mystic Graham, with an awful Pat Sharp mullet. However,
the deepest admiration should be reserved for the two newcomers, both
are brilliant yet when they are together is when there is a real spark
- never more apparent than in the wordless finale at the water's edge;
they merely look at each other to say it all.
The songs by Alex Turner, a key feature of the poster campaign, are a
bit wistful at times and not inspiring as they should be for a film,
which may rely on them more in another context. In spite of that
flaw, Ayoade is helped by his DoP, Erik Wilson (who also worked on the
forthcoming Tyranosaur directed by Paddy Considine) who lends a
vibrancy to proceedings.
This film was part funded by the UK Film Council and the National
Lottery, a travesty that that body has folded when something as rich
and fulfiling as this shows that there is genuine talent in the British
Isles when it comes to film-making.