Haven't Seen It? It's on Netflix: Submarine
Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige
Runtime: 97 min
Set in 1980s Wales, Submarine charts the coming-of-age of teenager Oliver Tate, as he takes his first wobbly steps into adulthood. In a few short months, Oliver begins a romance with the alluring, yet peculiar Jordana Bevan and then struggles to maintain the relationship. At the same time, Tate takes it upon himself to dowse the possible rekindling of romance between his mother (Sally Hawkins) and an old flame, a new age spiritualist and motivational speaker, Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine). All the while, Tate endures all of the pressures of teenage life: the awkwardness of awakened sexuality, the challenges of fitting in, parents who are drifting apart, and his first tastes of both love and death.
Starting early on, Richard Ayoade's (of The IT Crowd fame) directorial debut draws several comparisons to the work of Wes Anderson; Tate's precociousness reminds one of Rushmore's Max Fischer, the film makes use of deep reds and blues and assigns them to certain characters, and even the font used for the opening credits is similar to the Futura typeface used in all of Anderson's films. But the similarities soon fade, and Submarine takes on a life of its own. Rather than focusing on characters that are unable to grow up, Submarine explores what happens to Oliver when he is forced to. As such, Craig Robinson is well cast as the wide-eyed Oliver; he approaches the role of a boy trying to control his own life's narrative with the certainty that everything will go according to his plan, and evolves to the wiser acceptance that things rarely do.
Especially for a first time director, Ayoade treats the sometimes excruciatingly awkward depiction of Tate's coming of age with uncommon grace. Uncomfortable scenes that could easily be played for cheap laughs are given a softness and humanity that, instead of making us squirm, draw us more deeply into Oliver's emotional world. Comedy is present throughout the film, however, but it is found in the small moments of Oliver's courtship of Jordana, through the idiosyncrasies of his family dynamic, and through his unique perspective of life itself.
Submarine is an wonderful look at the formative years in life, a time in which, all at once, responsibilities are thrust upon us as they never have been before, and decisions must be made that have numerous consequences. Through it's dark comedy and light drama, it is both joyous and touching to see Oliver attempt to have the triumphs of adolescence outweigh the tragedies, and ultimately, just keep his head above the water.