20 March 2011
Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut openly references and riffs on Wes Anderson and Michel Gondry in style. In several scenes, it blends two of cinema’s most famous endings: The 400 Blows and Don’t Look Now. It even borrows the iconic red coat from the latter film - the garment with which one of the main characters can be seen throughout. The protagonist’s room is adorned with drawings of French cinema, from My Night with Maud to Le Samouraï. There is even a pencil-drawn portrait of Woody Allen by his bedside.
Yet, despite these obvious and subtle nods to films of days past, Ayoade’s script manages to remain orginal, engaging and mostly interesting until the very end. There may be one or two indie songs too many (a Garden State influence, perhaps?), but this is a highly assured introduction to a first-time filmmaker’s surprising maturity.
When you have a film so aware of itself (the fourth wall is constantly broken and there is constant voice-over which dictates how you should feel after every event), there comes a time when the quirkiness wears thin and you just want to get things moving. Sadly, Submarine hits a brickwall like that in the middle section (Part 2 - the film is divided into three parts, plus a prologue and an epilogue), which sags considerably. This loss in momentum is then regained in the final act, but it may have been a little too little, too late.
Having said that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable coming of age story. Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a teenager living in a modern day small-town Wales. He wants to lose his virginity and be the best boyfriend in the world for Yasmin Paige’s cool-as-can-be Jordana. Meanwhile, his parents (Sally Hawkins as Jill and Noah Taylor as Lloyd) are having some marital issues. When Jill’s old flame Graham (Paddy Considine in a great little role) moves next door, Oliver suspects the marriage will be ruined by a potential infidelity.
The cast, from the young leads to the adults, are in fine form. Watching Sally Hawkins’s Jill, who seems to have been stuck in the 1950s, reminded me what an incredible actress she is. Her awkward mannerisms, quiet but fierce aggression, plays off wonderfully well with her quiet, introverted husband. Considine’s mullet-wearing pseudo-psychic could easily have been a mockery, a one-joke pony. But, Ayoade’s script and Considine’s measured acting makes him believable and just-the-right-amount hilarious.
This is awkward watching at times: when Jill admits to his son that she gave Graham a handjob is so subtle that I had to do a double-take to make sure that I had heard it right the first time. I wasn’t the only one as there were many a heads looking left and right in the theatre. This isn’t Billy Wilder, but the nonchalant little asides in the ongoing dialogues are really good.
When watching a Wes Anderson film, I tend to get bored after about 5 minutes. However, this kept me entertained for much longer. Yes, the middle part drags on a bit, but it isn’t something that won’t be remedied when it comes to Ayoade’s second film - and I’m sure there’ll be more.