Love's a Tate Ache
On first appearances "Submarine" sounds pretty much like any other nostalgic coming of age movie as it focuses on the romantic trials and tribulations of a 15 year old boy. But then you start adding the various elements with this being a very British coming of age story with a dreary 80s palette and quirky characters. It is off beat and director Richard Ayoade mixes elements so that routine teen troubles have an almost artsy feel to them. But more interesting is the combination of storylines as whilst we have 15 year old Oliver's romantic trials and tribulations they are blended with issues over his parents strained marriage.
15 year old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a bit of an oddball, he day dreams as to what it would be like for his classmates if he died, visualizing the out pouring of emotion from those who barely new him. But he is also a very typical 15 year old who in-between secretly monitoring what goes on in his parents bedroom has a thing for classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). The trouble is that whilst he becomes Jordana's boyfriend his life is made complicated when he fears his mother is going to have an affair and forces him to choose between trying to save their marriage or his relationship with Jordana.
As a debut director Richard Ayoade has certainly crafted a special movie on so many levels from the look, the style, the quirkiness yet also the realism it is so many things and it works. At its heart it has what is a common coming of age storyline of young love and the awkwardness of it such as when Oliver goes full out romantic in order to lose his virginity. And at the same time also getting across that all consuming feeling of first love, that willingness to do anything to maintain that state of ecstasy and the heart wrenching despair when it is over.
And the authentic and nostalgic look of first love is also filled with other elements of growing up. We have aspects of bullying, the strained parent child relationship and plenty more with much of it being familiar to other coming of age movies. But it is in the almost insignificant detail where it is really authentic, maybe I am strange but a scene where we see Oliver messing about with matches and lighting the hairs on his leg reminded of something which was done when I was a teen. It is this sense of real things which makes this coming of age feel authentic and not manufactured.
Yet this coming of age is made more complicated by the offbeat inclusion of Oliver's parents failing marriage, a marriage as Oliver explains has been loveless for 7 months as he monitors his parents love making via the position of the dimmer switch in their bedroom. It is seriously quirky with his parents being polarized caricatures of early 80s stiff parents which when combined with his mother's mullet haired first love who turns up on the scenes makes it border on the weird. Yet it combines so brilliantly as Oliver finds himself torn between preserving young love and his relationship with Jordana or trying to save his parents marriage.
The thing about "Submarine" is that along with a lot going on it is a strange mixture because you have routine coming of age mixed with quirky and then on top of that some stunning styling. Use of revolving camera shots, slow motion, cine montages as well as the beach and skyline all add to a movie which seems to be a bit mainstream and a bit indie. Maybe that was the intention because "Submarine" feels like a bridging movie for those who won't watch indie movies because of their pretentiousness and need something they can relate to.
Now whilst Richard Ayoade deserves applause for this brilliant directional debut it is also Craig Roberts who deserves the applause. The character of Oliver is strange, we can relate to him but he is also an oddball who doesn't say much yet Roberts makes him so real, strange but also familiar. Maybe it is half down to Roberts look, the dark eyes the huge coat, but something about how he plays Oliver makes us curious and captivated. Roberts is not the only good performance and Sally Hawkins, Yasmin Paige and also Noah Taylor all deliver these fascinating characters which have real traits about them but are also quirky.
What this all boils down to is that "Submarine" is a coming of age movie which because it has so much going on from storyline combinations to styling elements that it is both memorable and enjoyable. But more importantly it is the closest movie I have seen which bridges the gap between mainstream and indie, delivering familiar elements but with independent style.