A film about an unprepossessing adolescent set in the 1980s in Swansea, directed by Richard Ayoade, from a novel by Joe Dunthorne. Ben Stiller is involved in it. It stars Craig Roberts and Oliver Tait, a sharp witted and observant schoolboy (we are given to understand). He bullies a slightly corpulent girl in order to win over Jordana (Yasmin Paige) who wears a red duffel coat. She seems to dominate Oliver. His parents are played by Noah Taylor, who is a marine biologist, and Sally Hawkins, who works in an office. She is getting bored with hubby and has designs on Paddy Considine who plays a leather clad, would-be mystic . Oliver has fantasies, he imagines the public grief at his demise. He poses as a philosopher. He plays host to Jordana, using boxed wine and prawns and then a candle lit bedroom. Jordana’s mother has cancer and Jordana rejects Oliver for not visiting her mother in hospital. In order to get her over her grief for her mother, he tries to poison her dog, thinking that such an action will get her used to grief.
This is quite funny for the first half, though you might find your laughter getting self consciously thin. It’s a coming of age film and I think it’s apposite to list the cliches of this kind of film. The Graduate has a lot to answer for.
a) The lead character is usually an unprepossessing sulky young man or woman but has one or two supposedly cool confederates.
b) The lead character is usually sexually inept but keeps girlfriend anyway. If a girl, she is bright and scares boys off.
c)The lead usually makes a great fuss about learning things the rest of us take in our stride.
d) The lead usually has hippy liberal parents into sexual liberation. They always try to keep up with fashionable ideas and of course they are shamefully uncool.
e) The parents are usually played by actors like Stan Tucci or Noah Taylor. Dad is usually a sexual failure and figure of fun.
f) The hero’s house is always clean and his/her parents never seem to work.
g) Freeze frame with titles indicate some moments of comic insight.
h) The voice-over threads relentlessly through the film. There is a tone of.disparagement of teachers and pupils, usually such comments focus on physical quirks or personality deficiencies.
i) Just to get some intellectual credibility, the lead must either read or name drop Friedrich Nietzsche, compulsory for adolescents..
j) So the star has to be a nerdy existentialist.
k) There is posturing with flattering fantasised self image, like Billy Liar.
l) There is some obligatorily silly friend or family relation of the nerdy hero. They are usually some self deluded uncle or old flame who is so uncool.
m) There is the inevitable heart to heart with Mum or Dad, usually in the bedroom.
n) Somebody manages to be ill or die and this is supposed to be a wake up call.
o) If it’s set in a particular decade there will be anachronisms.
p) There is usually a leitmotif (quirky of course) and this explains the title.
q) There always must be a highly obtrusive soundtrack of guitar twanged ballads of teen angst, usually superfluous to understanding the lead (should you want to).
r) The main characters are always middle class. Submarine is guilty of a) b) c) e) f) g) h) i) j) k) l) m) n) o) p) q) r) s) t) u) and r). Oh dear, all of them.
SThe funny bits cannot distract from the film’s obvious lack of originality. Its precursors go from The Graduate and Here we go round the Mulberry Bush to Adrian Mole and Juno and The Scarlet A. The last two are by far the best of the lot. There is the same smug self regard sinking into suffocating self absorption. For all the intelligence of the lead in Submarine, he is slow to learn about himself – cliche (c). Like similar characters, he might be a dark horse to his more alpha-male aspiring school colleagues, but he is often cowardly and snobbish, and of course he gets the girl in the end. Jordana goes around in a vivid red duffel coat which is of course an uncool article of clothing. We are meant to think of the midget in Don’t Look Now, she turns round and slashes Donald Sutherland with a knife. In Submarine someone turns round to him but it is not Jordana. The coat is visually stunning in a landscape of greys, browns and greens, it’s like a splash of scarlet paint over a grey canvas
There is fashionable amusement with the quirks of other decades. Oliver invites Jordana to a meal and he has a box of wine on the table and I wonder if that’s more 70s than 80s. Cliche (l) is embodied in Paddy Considine. He plays a leather trousered would be mystic, all Allen Partridge insecurity and medallion man gormlessness. His hairdo is a mullet, he drives a star spangled van straight out of a 1968 rock tour.
The parents responsible for the cliche offences d) e) f) g) m) are Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins. Noah Taylor looks like the perfect wally dad. He can be relied on to offer good natured platitudes to the son he is not supposed to understand. Sally Hawkins has become the face of Mrs Englishwoman for all decades from the debutantes of the 1950s, to Dagenham housewife of the 60s, to a 21st century manic optimist. If she’s not careful, she will be wheeled onto more films to provide comfort for right wing nostalgics. She is our contemporary answer to Deborah Kerr, the professional Englishwoman. No doubt Americans lap this sort of thing up. They love to hear Limmies being clever and humorous, and these sort of glorified TV productions that have been turned into films tend to be well worked rungs up the Hollywood ladder. This would have been better as a shorter TV production.
Occasionally funny but very derivative.