Sunday 27 March 2011

Review: Submarine

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: Richard Ayoade
Screenplay: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor

Synopsis is here:

The best way to describe Richard Ayoade's (Moss of I.T crowd) feature directional debut is with one word: Awkward. This a both a good and bad thing to the film as a whole because while much of the film is meant to bring a certain amount of discomfort in tone (much of the amusement comes from its thorniness), certain aspects stick out like a sore thumb. Other moments are just plain hard to like. I wasn't surprised that the film had two walkouts in the cinema I watched it in. I stuck with the film because A: I don't do walkouts, B: My girlfriend was with me, but mostly importantly C: in that there is something amusing about the films quirks and a certain amount of emotion which gets wrought out of the situation put in place. However, I really had to work at it to get invested.

I found my slight detachment odd being a fan of Rushmore; the film that Submarine is being routinely compared to. Like Andersons feature and more recently Scott Pilgrim vs The World, the film is a coming of age feature dealing with lead characters that are not easy to warm to. The issue I have is while these protagonists are all very similar (misguided, self-absorbed to the point of delusion) Submarine has darker themes roaming it's corridors. This is by no way a bad thing, but it does mean that the stakes are higher, so while Scott Pilgrim and Max Fischer have a dopey charm about them that helped me connect, Submarine's Oliver doesn't have such an easy entry point. To some this may be the film's saving grace as the film eschews a lot of the surface gloss that litters some other films of it's ilk. However when the film gets to the final third I found it hard to truly engage with the lead. Perhaps I felt that Oliver is maybe too selfish with all things considered.

All this aside; Ayoade has a strong vision in mind and while the illusions of Wes Anderson and French New Wave influences are clearly present, the film is all Ayoade's. The film's mixture of setting and retro mise en scene (sorry for using the dreaded word) give the film a timeless feel, while it's muted colours and combination of ugly industrial estates and gorgeous beach landscapes match our protagonists perfectly. Ayoade also has a certain flair for set pieces with a highlight being a well crafted two weeks of romance scene that's full of youthful nostalgia and a sweetness that is lacking within recent Brit flick affair.

The film is also well casted. Craig Roberts downcast expression and quick spoken ramblings capture the gawky inelegance that comes from being the uncool school drifter.Yasmine Paige is well matched foil for this as the unsentimental and bad tempered love interest, Jordana. Without some of the more common indicators, their romance has very natural feel to it. Sally Hawkins (Jill) and Noah Taylor (Lloyd) are almost unrecognizable as Oliver's parents, while Paddy Considine once again reminds us that he has comic chops to match his more dramatic intensity, channeling Jemaine Clements Chevalier with a very amusing star gazing ex-lover of Jills.

Leaving the cinema afterward almost left me at a loss. Submarine is witty, stylish and on the right side of nostalgia. However, this isn't meant to be as observational as something like Archipelago and there are moments that kept me at an arms length. Sometimes it's down to the character, other times it's just elements that just don't feel right such as the chapter titles, its odd pacing, and an end that feels too neat. But despite this the film has left me aching to rewatch it as I have a feeling the slight imperfections may be the reason the film is so appealing.  

Note: I was not prepared for Alex Turners score, which I really enjoyed.