Friday, June 10, 2011
Movie review: Submarine
Oliver and Jordana's romance burns like a flame: a candle flame on a windy day.
Submarine marks Richard Ayoade's first foray into feature length narrative filmmaking, and it's an auspicious debut — this set-in-Wales coming of age tale is heartfelt, keenly-observed, and occasionally hilarious. It's certainly one of the freshest films of the year, and easily one of the most entertaining.
But — in case you haven't guessed — it has nothing to do with naval warfare.
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Ayoade's film is told through the eyes and fecund imagination of 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), whose acid and insightful internal dialog serves as narration for the on-screen happenings.
Oliver reveals himself to be a typical, if unusually philosophical, teen: He struggles to bring his self-image and his at-large reputation into some kind of comfortable alignment; he lusts (in wholesome, boyish fashion) after a bad/pretty girl classmate named Jordana (Yasmin Paige); and although kind at heart, he's not above picking on the class whipping boy, who in this case happens to be a girl. As Oliver puts it: "I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress."
On the home front, Oliver's parents are in danger of drifting apart to the point of separation, introducing a strident note of insecurity into the symphony of Oliver's ego. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) — a marine biologist who knows how deep the ocean is — can't hold a candle in terms of dynamic appeal to the personage of Graham (Paddy Considine, done up in sweet, sweet mullet and beard). Graham, whose van sports an airbrushed portrait of himself set against the starry firmament, has recently moved into a neighboring flat; he's a new-age guru-to-the-masses, the kind of guy who purports to see the color of one's aura. And then offers to heal it.
Oliver's mom Jill (Sally Hawkins), it turns out, used to date Graham, and seems not averse to bringing him and his live-in girlfriend into the family's circle of friends. Lloyd (to his credit) doesn't get Graham's goofy appeal — nor does Oliver — but their disdain for his "new age cosmic bullshit" won't stop Jill from attending his weekly lectures. When Graham's girlfriend splits the scene, Oliver senses trouble on the parental domestic bliss horizon.
Submarine is full of wonderful impressionist flourishes, such as in the Tom Sawyer-ish episode where Oliver imagines the aftermath of his own death: Fellow students are seen to weep in the hallways, consoling each other with hugs and hankies; a spontaneous candlelight vigil breaks out amongst his classmates, who speak to reporters about what a tragic and untimely loss to society his death represents. The whole town turns out for his funeral. When he comes back to life in a blaze of glory in a school hallway, students take to their knees in prayerful thanks.
The almost antagonistic romance that develops between Jordana and Oliver proves fascinating in its unfolding, because it seems so genuine — and so genuinely tenuous. It burns like a flame, but it's a candle flame on a windy day, with rain clouds rolling in from the west.
I've seldom seen a film so accomplished at generating high drama (and snarky comedy) from ordinary events. Here's hoping there's more to the Oliver and Jordana story — though I'd be perfectly happy for Oliver to get his hands on a different overcoat.
JUST YOU WAIT: I'd like to thank the United States for not invading us." - Oliver, re. Wales, in written preamble to the film