Under the influence of any director and not first-timer Richard Ayoade, “Submarine” could have regressed into a conceited piece of machinery. Thankfully, what is delivered is a soulful work, whose substance is empowered by its style.

Submarine

At the Michigan
The Weinstein Company


Ayoade confidently leads his audience forward through this coming-of-age tale about a Welsh teenager named Oliver Tate, played by an excellent Craig Roberts (“Young Dracula”). As a boy caught in between social alienation and an emotionless marriage, Roberts is able to convey the heaviness of a tired soul and the naïve romanticism of a teenager. He is full of confusion and angst, looking only to submerge himself in the scene — like a “submarine.”

This submarine metaphor can be found throughout the entire film, embodying his helplessness and pain, and it elevates the entire story. Like a submarine, Oliver is unseen. He observes and commentates, providing a sardonically humorous voice amid his parents’ crumbling marriage that proves to be immediate and insightful. But these innermost thoughts are impossible to express because he is a timid, awkward boy. He lives in a world that is underwater, buried beneath his fear and his inability to properly communicate.

Created by a director bent on style and laughs, “Submarine” could have deteriorated into a raunchy mess made simply of characters and easy punchlines. Ayoade wisely avoids this pitfall. Without grandiose voice-overs from Hollywood names, but with a witty script, talented leads and energetic style, Ayoade sinks the audience to the depths of Oliver, presenting a film told squarely from the point of view of his complex but ultimately likeable personality.

Ayoade’s camera urgently moves and swoops through each frame that mimics Oliver’s anxiety and anger, and respectfully stops to freeze tender moments without any of the titillation many films refuse to pass over. Title screens are ushered in alongside mockingly dramatic music. Oliver’s narration is present throughout the film, but it is hardly intruding. These elements work with each other in a cohesive manner and do not at all compete with one another. They offer humanity, allowing “Submarine” to succeed as both a fresh, dark drama and a romantic comedy. It’s an immersive tale with each of its scenes colored with techniques that never strike the viewer as pretentious or indulgent. This is merely a vision of a very real reality, whose features are enhanced solely for the purpose of bringing the characters directly to the audience.

“Submarine” delivers truths of childhood and adolescence that very few could deny matter or exist. While this film is only an adaptation of a novel by Jon Dunthorne and not truly Ayoade’s original creation, his ability to present the characters within the frame of the silver screen is nothing short of impressive. One could think of it as a skillful balance between realism and surrealism, or comedy versus drama — or maybe it’s just great storytelling.

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