Dir. Richard Ayoade. U.K. 2010.

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Although I have yet to meet any examples in real life, the precocious, alienated, angst-ridden teenager is a staple both in film and literature. He appears once again in the person of 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a confused, self-involved, but ultimately sympathetic teen in Richard Ayoade's charming and stylish directorial debut Submarine. Based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne and set in Swansea, Wales, probably in the early 80s given the appearance of bulky VHS tapes and television sets, Oliver is the film's deadpan narrator and allows us to see the world through his eyes. 

Absorbed in his own inner-monologue, he is in more an observer than a participant. Like Bud Cort in Harold and Maude who Roberts physically resembles, he fantasizes about the grief that would take place if he were to commit suicide, transforming himself from the geeky loner and victim of taunts to the model teenager worshipped by family and classmates and even the entire country, with signs at his funeral like, "We Envy the Angels." In real life, however, he is not exactly the picture of empathy, joining in with his mates in bullying a heavy-set girl Zoe Preece (Lily McCann) even though he later apologizes and offers advice on how to avoid being a victim in life. Predictably, his advice falls on deaf ears. 
Almost always dressed in his trademark black duffel coat with gold buttons, Oliver is so self-dramatizing that he "wishes there was a film crew following my every move." Though not yet an intellectual, he has pretensions in that direction, reading the dictionary, taking his girl friend Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige) to see Carl Dreyer's silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, and offering her such reading material as The Catcher in the Rye and a book by the philosopher Nietzsche. Oliver has two strong desires: to calm his raging hormones and have sex with Jordana, and reconcile his warring parents: mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) and father Lloyd (Noah Taylor), a chronically depressed marine biologist who failed as a TV commentator. 

The couple has become distanced because of Lloyd's waning interest in sex and Jill's more than casual interest in an old flame, flamboyant motivational lecturer Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) who has moved next door. On a “routine inspection” of his parent's bedroom, Oliver tells us that the dimmer switch in their bedroom has been fully turned on for quite a while (it is only turned down when they have had sex). Even though we take a while to warm up to them, Oliver and Jordana are believable together and have excellent chemistry. 

On their first kiss, the somewhat domineering Jordana tells our hero to get down on his knees under a railway bridge, then gives him a very long kiss that he is unsure how to deal with. She also tells him to write down three reasons why she should want to make love with him. Though he meets Jordana's parents and is welcomed by her dad (Sion Tudor Owen) as “being part of the family”, his insecurity shows itself when he is unable to meet Jordana's emotional needs in a moment of crisis. Through the pain he sees that he caused, he discovers that people fail and feelings can be hurt and he is able to turn his attention from conquest to reconciliation. 

Though Submarine sags a bit in the middle after a brilliant first half hour, it redeems itself in the end with a final shot almost as memorable as that of John-Pierre Léaud in Truffaut's The 400 Blows. Supported by cinematographer Erik Wilson, an Andrew Hewitt score, and songs by Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, Submarine is a sweet and funny film that, unlike many Hollywood teen comedies, is not afraid to mix genuine emotions with its humor. We identify with the characters, not because they are without flaws, but because we can recognize in them, our own halting steps towards maturity.


Howard Schumann

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