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.