SUBMARINE: Starring Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Paige and Paddy Considine. Direction and screenplay by Richard Ayoade. Rated M (Coarse language and sexual references). 97 minutes.
Reviewed by Jan Epstein
BASED on Joe Dunthorne’s novel of the same name, Submarine is an edgy, good-natured coming-of-age story that looks back without anger or undue sentimentality at growing up Welsh in the “swinging” 1980s.
The son of unconventional parents in the seaport town of Swansea, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is quirky and opinionated, a social misfit at school who tries to gain the attention and acceptance of attractive fellow-student Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige) by bullying a fat girl.
Jordana is impressed, and to the amazement of classmates, the two become friends and tentative lovers.
Jordana is drawn to Oliver at a time when her mother becomes grievously ill. Life for Oliver is difficult too.
His marine biologist father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is a depressive, and this is exacerbated when a New Age guru Graham (Paddy Considine), an old boyfriend of Oliver’s mother Jill (Sally Hawkins), moves next door.
Graham is narcissistically flirtatious and needy, and Oliver’s wooing of Jordana and his involvement in her life begins to take second place when he suspects that his parents’ marriage is falling apart, and that Graham is to blame.
Submarine is the debut feature of Richard Ayoade, best known to Australian audiences for his role as a frizzy-haired, hapless nerd in the off-beat British TV comedy The IT Crowd.
Ayoade’s direction of his own screenplay is deft and imaginative, with the talented cast that includes newcomers Roberts and Paige and established actors Taylor (Shine, Red Dog) and Hawkins (Made in Dagenham, Jane Eyre) giving performances that are at once understated, wildly funny and believable.
Submarine with its enigmatic title covers ground familiar to all of us: the awkwardness of adolescence and learning about relationships, for which no one is prepared.
What makes Submarine memorable and special, however, apart from its idiosyncratic characters is the inventiveness of the storytelling, scenes verging on snapshots, captions and drawings which warn and direct us, and fades to red (not black) that punctuate and dramatise Oliver’s story like a heartbeat.
Jan Epstein is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.