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Posts Tagged ‘Submarine’

It may well be the case that, with the benefit of hindsight, the comedy output of the UK network Channel 4 in the late 90s and early 2000s will be recognised as an extraordinary hothouse for cinematic talent. The success of Simon Pegg, Ricky Gervais and their associates – by far the majority of whom rose to fame on Four in that period – is ongoing and impressive. Joe Cornish, one of the creators of The Adam and Joe Show, has recently completed Attack the Block, an SF thriller that already has a tremendous buzz about it. And, perhaps most startling of all, Richard Ayoade has written and directed Submarine, one of the most distinctive and impressive movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Ayoade, to me at least, is most familiar as geek extraordinaire Moss from The IT Crowd and Dean Learner from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. Submarine is not remotely like either of these programmes, being a coming-of-age story – a combination of drama and jet-black comedy that’s tonally somewhere between Donnie Darko, Gregory’s Girl, and Napoleon Dynamite.

Craig Roberts plays Oliver, a teenager growing up in a town on the Welsh coast, at some point in a deliberately indeterminate past (pedants will have a field day). Oliver’s father (Noah Taylor) is a marine biologist and failed Open University presenter, while his mother (Sally Hawkins) has an unrewarding office job. Despite his massive gaucheness and general inability to recognise basic emotional truths, Oliver’s attempts to impress eczema-prone temptress Jordana (a revelatory Yasmin Paige) are actually successful, and the two embark on a relationship which they agree is strictly to be non-romantic and unsentimental. But Oliver’s attention is distracted from his girlfriend: his parents are having a tough time, and things are not helped by the appearance of an old flame from his mother’s past: leather-trousered psychic guru Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine)…

What Submarine captures brilliantly is that moment in life when you have – to all intents and purposes – mature faculties, and the capacity for adult emotions, but a complete lack of the life-experience necessary to let you cope with them. It’s about attempting to be a grown-up, and then completely cocking it up. I found so much of it to be almost painfully familiar from my own adolescence: Ayoade’s script captures the awkwardness, the casual, unthinking cruelty, the moments of irresistible emotion, and above all the monumental self-absorption of being a teenager.

One of the things about being in your teens is that every single experience can feel like something epic and life-changing and utterly central to your being, when (of course) it’s almost always nothing of the sort. Submarine manages to communicate this, telling what’s ultimately a rather banal story with such style and confidence and wit that it does seem to be of much greater import than it probably is. This makes the film rather difficult to review effectively, but still.

What could have been a fairly cosy and nostalgic comedy is lifted to another level entirely by Richard Ayoade’s command of the camera and some beautiful cinematography. And this absolutely isn’t a cosy film, although I did laugh out loud throughout it. The humour is distinctly strange and very dark – one moment sees Oliver, with the authentically twisted logic of a teenager, deciding to help Jordana cope with a chronic illness in her family by poisoning her dog – and the whole thing is ruthlessly underplayed by the entire cast. Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige essentially carry the film and deliver a couple of – if there’s any justice – star-making performances. (I spent most of the film wondering why Paige seemed vaguely familiar before seeing her name in the credits and realising I had seven hours of her on DVD already – she’s almost unrecognisable from her stint in Sarah Jane.)

I suppose if I had to make criticisms of Submarine, it would be that the film tarries just little too long in its closing stages, that at times its confidence and style come very close to becoming outright smug pretentiousness, and that there isn’t quite enough Paddy Considine in it. But this is to quibble: Submarine is quite possibly my favourite film of the year so far, and it’s practically a scandal that in some parts of the UK it’s only on the art house circuit. Richard Ayoade has made a film with a genuinely cinematic vision, that manages to be, superficially, completely restrained, and yet at the same time deeply moving as well as very funny.  Highly recommended.

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