Submarine

 

Again, a mea culpa, as this film’s been out for ages and I am following well in the vanguard of other writers and bloggers. However, I have to confess to being put off by what seemed unjustified hype – as with True Grit, I always feel wary of reading a rave review about a film that can’t specify why it’s so good. However, here it’s rather easy. Richard Ayoade, hitherto best known as the heroically geeky Moss from The IT Crowd, has established himself as a much more interesting director than many of his peers in his adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s acclaimed novel. Cinematically this is in a league apart from Chris Morris, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish, instead opting for a formal classicism, mixed with wry adventurousness that nods in equal parts to French New Wave and Rushmore-era Wes Anderson.

Set in a cleverly evoked 80s Wales that’s devoid of male voice choirs or sheep shagging jokes – this definitely isn’t Twin Town – the action revolves around permanently duffelcoat-clad, briefcase-wielding teenager Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who isn’t especially popular at school, and who will happily join in the bullying of the only girl he’s ever kissed before to impress the apparently unattainable Jordana (Yasmin Page), to whom he wishes to lose his virginity. All however is not well at home. His depressed marine biologist father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is developing a form of agoraphobia, and his miserable mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is contemplating an affair with her old flame, the ridiculously mulleted ‘psychic’ Graham (Paddy Considine). Oh, and all isn’t necessarily well with Jordana and her family, either.

With a variety of cinematic tropes that any Anderson fan will enjoy – slow motion, knowing and literate narration, in-jokes that include a blink and you’ll miss it cameo from exec producer Ben Stiller, of all people – Ayoade confidently announces himself as a director of no little chutzpah and visual ability. Helped immeasurably by Erik Wilson’s cinematography and Alex Turner’s Nick Drake-esque songs, he simultaneously makes Swansea look miserable and weirdly beautiful. His script is frequently laugh-out-loud funny, with deadpan moments of black comedy that are all the more hilarious for being underplayed, and he’s helped by Roberts, forever looking faintly furtive in his increasingly bizarre forays into sex and death, and Page, who brings a likeability and humanity to a character who might otherwise have ended up a cipher, a la Scott Pilgrim’s Ramona.

It’s probably too odd and opaque for mainstream audiences, and I think that it will be a cult success rather than one to bother awards ceremonies. But it’s highly recommended and a joy from start to finish. How can you not warm to a film that contains the line, as part of an attempted rapprochement, ‘Mum gave a handjob to a mystic in the back of a van’?

 

 

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