David Ayoade / UK / 2010
David Ayoade’s debut drama-comedy Submarine slowly sinks. Despite being often explosively funny it slumps in that particularly British puddle of dribbling laughter in with the dreaded ‘heartfelt’ drama. Pulling both off convincingly in equal amounts generally calls for Mike Leigh. But don’t despair - Submarine could almost be the British Rushmore.
Based on the book by Joe Dunthorne, the teenage protagonist Oliver Tate is basically Max Fischer’s spiritual cousin. Stuck in some Welsh coastal town his lively imagination peps up the narration as he schemes to loose his virginity to the eczema-ridden Jordana Bevan. Around this his parents drift apart when his mother falls for a phoney spiritualist who moves in nearby.
Submarine bravely walks the tightrope of making Tate rather likeable. No mean feat considering he bullies the fat girl at school deliberately to reach Jordana’s notice at the start. Afterwards he tries to apologise, even going so far as to write her tips on how to avoid being bullied in future. Later on he does equally questionable things whilst maintaining our affectations as his parent’s marriage crumbles.
Similar to Fischer, Tate is the eclectic kid on the block with his duffle jacket and posters on the walls of vintage films like La Samurai. But unlike Submarine we actually get inside this unassuming hipster’s skull via the narration. As well as keeping company to Tate’s thought processes he even intrudes on the style of the film itself with Super-8 footage, Polaroid snapshot sections and comments even about which shots are being used! Brilliantly at one point Tate mentions how the film’s budget is stopping it using the camera shots he likes!
Doubts start to appear though when you start wondering how this precious teen is able to afford a French crooners phase. We don’t know how and shouldn’t care. But the fact we are screams that something has broken somewhere.
Possibly one reason comes from the credibility of the supporting performances. Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige carry the film as Tate and Jordana, so no complaints there. But the three main adult characters are played by heavyweight talents. Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins play Tate’s parents. Paddy Considine pops up as the guy after his mother, a cretinous creation not a million miles away from Le Donk in the Shane Meadows film. Hawkins and Taylor’s marriage in Submarine screams an authenticity that crashes Tate’s dreaming. Taylor incidentally is great as the put upon father; insular, bearded and pissed-off as his wife falls under the spell of Considine’s faker.
As the second feature from a loose group connected to cult comedy TV show The Mighty Boosh (in which director Ayoade occasionally appears) one film worth mentioning in comparison to Submarine is Bunny and the Bull (in which Ayoade also appears). Mildly rubbish despite the performers and the exhilarating visual sense, an imaginative mixture of papier-mache can-do, Bunny and the Bull nails the DIY aesthetic also seen in Son of Rambow and Be Kind Rewind with its sweded films. Submarine takes this further and starts to bash in the fourth wall with it. Ferris Bueller would be proud.