nziff ’11: Submarine
dir. Richard Ayoade | UK | 2010 | 97 mins.
The coming-of-age genre is a timeless one with a typical structure: A child, often a teenager, encounters a struggle or situation that propels them into adulthood—or at least their next stage in life. Richard Ayoade’s debut feature Submarine, based on the novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, doesn’t deviate too far from this structure but injects it with boatloads of quirk and an ostentatious style that often works to the film’s detriment. The story revolves around the dysfunctional life 15-year old Oliver Tate, charmingly played by Craig Roberts. His parents’ relationship is falling apart, and he has a crush on a girl in his class, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige). He gets the girl relatively early on, and the rest of the film focuses on him trying to keep her and deal with—and then solve—his parents’ relationship problems.
Ayoade gets the audience into Oliver’s state of mind very effectively; it feels like we’re living inside a teenager’s head while watching this film. This isn’t always a good thing: there are copious amounts of voiceover which feels like it was written and rewritten by a writer, rather than feeling like the voice of a teenager. The film also constantly calls attention to itself—there are a lot of montages and knowing winks to the audience to make sure that they’re in on how this is a different coming-of-age film. There are times when this works—particularly in the scenes between Oliver and Jordana—but at other times, like when dealing with Oliver’s parents and his home life, it falls flat.
The film handles the relationship between Oliver and Jordana well; they act like you’d expect teenagers to act in their situation and it gives weight to their relationship without bogging down the whole enterprise with how important and serious it is. However, the film bungles the relationship between Oliver and his parents, played by the talented Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor. Their characters are paper-thin and the few developments they have seem arbitrary and inorganic. Making matters worse is the interloper, Graham (Paddy Considine), a new-age guru who feels like he’d be great in a film that wasn’t trying so hard to be honest to the teenage experience, but in this he feels awkwardly shoehorned in for comic relief.
Ayoade shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker and obviously has an innate sense of style, although it’s overused here. He deals with the romantic relationship in the film with a surprising amount of maturity, and while the film is not without its pleasures, it leans too often on quirk to cohere as a truly good example of the coming-of-age genre.
The New Zealand International Film Festivals began on July 14 in Auckland; they start in Wellington on July 29, then travel to Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North, and Hamilton throughout August, and Nelson, Tauranga, New Plymouth, Hawke’s Bay, Greymouth, Masterton, and, finally, Kerikeri in November.
Full information on all films in the programme is at the festival’s website.