Brilliantly funny TV presenter/actor/writer Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, Submarine, is a sweet coming-of-age story about love and heartbreak set in a cosy, oceanside town in Wales. Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a precocious, mop-haired, 15-year old student with a navy toggle coat who falls in love with his classmate, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), an aloof pyromaniac with a sleek bob haircut and a bright red wool coat. Their romance begins after Jordana kisses him to make her ex jealous but Oliver earnestly aspires to be the best boyfriend he can be, taking his unofficial girlfriend to abandoned industrial sites to set off firecrackers and generally aligning his likes to hers. At the same time, Oliver’s parents Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and Jill (Sally Hawkins) have slowly begun to drift apart. The sudden arrival of new neighbour, Graham (Paddy Considine), who was Jill’s first love, tests their relationship. Witnessing complications in his parents’ marriage, Oliver also conspires to do everything he can to keep them together. Eventually, he has to decide which relationship—his or his parents’—is more important.
Through the visual and musical style of Submarine, it is clear that Ayoade loves Wes Anderson as much as I do. The film, at first glance, looks like a Welsh version of Rushmore as the young hero goes above and beyond to win over the object of his affection, all while dressed in his distinctive navy uniform. However, instead of a chaste, student-teacher relationship, Oliver and Jordana’s relationship is sort of like Paddington Bear meets Anna Karina—sometimes sweet and sometimes tempestuous. Other stylistic choices, such as meticulous set design, symmetrical framing, primary colour palette, mentions of marine biology, and the use of British Invasion music (provided in Submarine by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys) also reference other Anderson films.
Submarine, through the talent of its two young actors and well-written story, perfectly captures the giddiness of first love and the quiet devastation of young heartbreak. There are some really sweet moments that shine with the protagonist’s budding-philosopher narration as well as some truly horrifying, true-to-life ones involving schoolyard bullying. The secondary storyline of Lloyd and Jill, as seen by their very invested son, also quietly reflects on the loss of connection and excitement in a long marriage. Lloyd is noticeably depressed and his son’s effort to reach out to his father while his wife is pulling away is extremely touching. Jarring but enjoyable comedic moments come from Considine’s mulleted mystic character Graham, who is absolutely ridiculous but somehow still works in the world of Submarine. Ayoade proves himself a wry and talented filmmaker who pays suitable homage to Anderson but still manages to be faithful to the story.
Rating: 4 out of 5 texts by Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and J.D. Salinger