Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

If you only know Richard Ayoade as the nutty, uber-geeky, perennial man-child Moss from the IT Crowd, his directorial debut will come as a surprise… but a most welcome one.

Submarine is a low-key coming-of-age comedy-drama set in Eighties retrospect against the grimly melancholic pallor of an anonymous industrial South Wales town. Battle: Los Angeles, it ain’t. What it is, however, is a beautifully observed, quirkily funny and touchingly sweet reminiscence about the awkwardness of first love.

Ayoade has previously cut his directorial teeth with music videos, and the self-centred sensibilities of heartfelt indie-band introspection are writ large here, bolstered by the languorous soundtrack created by Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys.

It captures beautifully the oxymoronic adolescent jumble of bleak know-it-all certainties and crippling insecurities rattling around the head of central character, Oliver Tate. A social outsider, he imagines himself dead, but only to fantasise about how crippled by grief his desolate schoolmates would be. In truth, he is so detached that he has few friends – a solitary submarine, cruising unnoticed beneath everyone else’s gaze is the titular metaphor – so becomes a reluctant bully in an attempt to fit in and impress the aloof Jordana Bevan.

They do, indeed, form a suitably uncomfortable relationship; Oliver seeing it unfold through the lens of the imaginary film crew recording his life – an idea used sparingly, but just enough for some wry in-jokes from Ayoade. And if you are going to have your life on film, this offbeat comedian is the man to do it. He, and cinematographer Erik Wilson, can make a chemical plant look romantic; while motifs such as Jordan’s red coat – surely a cinematic homage -  put a strong visual stamp on proceedings.

At home, things are no better for Oliver, as his drab parents, Jill and Lloyd, a former Open University lecturer, limp through a repressed, lifeless marriage until their predictable routine becomes threatened by the arrival of one of Jill’s old flames, the appallingly self-important lifestyle coach – and wannabe ninja –  Graham. Such characters – and a few set-pieces such as an attempted pet poisoning – are the stuff of sitcom, but Ayoade depicts them all with such subdued realism, it ensures this is a sweet comedy of gauche behaviour, not broad slapstick.

Paddy Considine plays the preposterous Graham with perfect comic pitch and hilarious mullet, but it is the younger stars who undoubtedly carry this impeccably observed film. As Oliver, Craig Roberts is emotionally vacant, yet somehow compelling, while as the unromantic, borderline-pyromaniac teenage femme fatale Jordana, Yasmin Paige is a revelation.

The quirks of the characters, the knowing, unsentimental direction and – most of all, the warm charm that pervades every scene means that Submarine certainly reaches hidden depths. Especially for those who remember the crippling social discomfort of adolescence – rather than those still suffering it.\r\n

Review date: 18 Mar 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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