Please excuse Judge Ike Oden from this review—his tiny heart is broken.
Our review of Submarine, published October 4th, 2011, is also available.
"Jordana and I enjoyed an atavistic, glorious fortnight of lovemaking; humiliating teachers and bullying the weak. I have already turned these moments into the Super-8 footage of memory."
Unless you're really into British sitcoms, comedians, or actors, you probably haven't heard the name Richard Ayoade. Best known for his iconic work as Maurice Moss on the geek chic series The IT Crowd, Ayoade is preparing to make his American acting debut in the upcoming ensemble Neighborhood Watch, rubbing creative shoulders with big names like Vince Vaughn (Swingers), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up), Jonah Hill (Moneyball) and Ben Stiller (There's Something About Mary).
Even if the star-studded vehicle flops, one can look at Ayoade's IMDb page and sense his cult legacy is secure, having been on the creative ground floor of shows like The Mighty Boosh, Garth Merenghi's Darkplace, and Man To Man With Dean Learner (all of which are regularly re-aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim). Ayoade also cut his directorial teeth for indie rockers like The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs and The Arctic Monkeys.
With these credits to his name, it's no surprise his feature film debut, Submarine comes out of the gate as one of the most confident, wildly funny films of 2011. The most impressive part is Ayoade's work in the film which is exclusively behind the camera, rather than in front of it.
Facts of the Case
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine centers on Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, Jane Eyre) a very peculiar 15-year-old living in Wales. Among his chief interests are memorizing new words from the dictionary, listening to the music of French crooners, and petty arson. Lately, these obsessions have been superseded by two greater projects: losing his virginity before his next birthday and keeping his parents from splitting up. The only thing standing in the way are a depressed father (Noah Taylor, The Proposition), an infatuated mother (Sally Hawkins, Layer Cake) with her sights on a new age mystic (Paddy Considine, Dead Man's Shoes), and a pyromaniac girlfriend (Yasmin Page, Murderland) with an ailing mother. Will Oliver navigate the waters of youth or succumb to the tides of depression rising around him?
Like most quirky, coming-of-age films,Submarine garners a lot of comparison to the work of Wes Anderson, chiefly Rushmore. Both films center on precocious, self-absorbed 15-year-old boys, rely heavily on montage, have non-contemporary settings (Submarine is set during the 80s, a point the film references briefly), and reference French New wave films out the wazoo. For all they have in common, Submarine is the more challenging, mature, and ultimately funny film.
Oliver Tate is a deeply messed up kid. He's paranoid, pretentious, narcissistic, and very flexible in his morals, traits that, coupled with a low key personality, make him a hilarious and memorable character. Any kid actively trying to get his parents to have sex is a couple cans short of a six pack, but this symptom is only the tip of Oliver's effed up iceberg. Suffice it to say, he resorts to bullying, arson, vandalism, and violence multiple times over the course of his journey, actions that would make him less likeable if he wasn't so utterly inept at carrying them out.
We get glimpses into his psyche via a rapid fire voice over monotone narration and several jaunting scenes of self-obsessed fantasy. The latter sequences are beautifully realized by Ayoade, whose roaming camera, beautiful composition, colorful cinematography and obsession with details really bring Tate's perspective to vivid life. Submarine is all about perspective, particularly the lack of a realistic one. Every scene, every line, every frame of the film is filtered through Oliver's very weird viewpoint. As such, Ayoade absolutely commands the film, ensuring it represents Oliver Tate as much as the actor playing him, Craig Roberts. Ayoade and Roberts work together beautifully to achieve this goal, a partnership that elevates the piece beyond surface level quirk into an all-out celebration of the stupidity, naivety, cruelty and romanticism of youth.
Submarine trusts the intelligence and hindsight of its audience to create empathy for its protagonist. Oliver's intentions are ultimately benevolent, though his ways of achieving his goals are less so. Nevertheless, Oliver Tate is a teenage boy's teenage boy, a classic misfit that is at once contemptuous, hilarious, and adorable. He's so perfectly brought to life by young actor Roberts that its hard not to see the character blasting into the realm of cult favorites as the film builds a following, giving the likes of Holden Caulfield, Max Fischer, and young Antoine Doinel a run for their collective money.
It helps Roberts and Ayoade's efforts are so solidly supported by an equally hilarious, bizarre cast. Though the film belongs to Ayoade and Roberts, the duo are backed by a top-notch supporting cast. Paddy Considine steals the show as Graham Purvis, the insipid New Age ninja threatening to steal the Tate matron away. Considine's high-energy, pretentious rambling contrasts the dry precision of Oliver Tate and, even worse, steals the spotlight from his low-key father, a failed Jacques Cousteau type played to awkward delight by Noah Taylor. As the ladies of Tate's life, Sally Hawkins and Yasmin Page are straightforwardly tormented, though on different levels—Hawkins' Jill Tate yearns to live the exciting life of a teenage girl, while Page's pyromaniac Jordana suffers from indulging in too much excitement to distract her from the adult problems closing in around her.
Anchor Bay brings Submarine to Blu-ray in a modest package. The 1.85.1 1080p picture is a little rough, sporting robust colors and solid blacks but without a high level of detail. Given the film's low-budget origins and fuzzy, almost home video filming style, this isn't a criticism so much as a warning to viewers expecting a crystal clear viewing experience. It is a very close approximation to the theater presentation, which pleased me to no end. The 5.1 DTS Master track is substantially cleaner, boasting nice acoustics (especially during the film's catchy acoustic songs by Alex Turner) and very clear dialogue.
Extras are merely decent, offering a plethora of hit-and-miss deleted scenes (thus adhering to the very tenants of deleted scenes) and a fluffy making-of piece that is worth a watch to get a better understanding of Ayoade's approach to filmmaking.
Submarine is a classic comedy waiting to discover its U.S. audience. In adapting Joe Dunthorne's novel, director Ayoade blurs the line between tense and tender, helming one of the most honest, funny, literary and heartbreaking teen films ever committed to film. Like its protagonist, Submarine is irrepressibly hard not to love, especially on Blu-ray.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Deleted Scenes
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