I remember Submarine premiering at the London Film Festival last year - the cool new Brit flick - but for whatever reason it didn't catch my attention. Perhaps it was the way the film had been written up, or the fact that it just seemed a bit 'dowdy' (I'm not the most patriotic of film fans - I can't stand Mike Leigh/Shane Meadows/Ken Loach et al) that put me off. It got rave reviews, but I ignored it anyway. Until its official release a couple of months ago. Then something about it seemed to click, even before I got to see the trailer. It became one of those universally loved, eccentric black comedy Brit specials that you get maybe once or twice a year and that you have to see immediately. Because it will be unquestionably good.
Sadly despite its glowing reputation it still managed to dodge the multiplexes, so I've had to wait until this week for my local art house to pick up the pace to finally go see it. I feel I'm a little behind heaping praise on it, but the cinema itself was joyously packed and this created an atmosphere which elevated the film enormously, though I still would have enjoyed watching it from a PC screen at two in the morning no doubt.
It's based on a book dontcha know: 15 year old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) lives in a small Welsh seaside town with this mother and father, and spends too much time thinking and watching: thinking about a world in which he's died; thinking about fellow classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige); watching his parents every move (including 'routine searches' of their bedroom and a charting of light bulb levels); watching Jordana to see what kind of a person she is. Soon his world revolves around two things: being the greatest boyfriend there is - and losing his virginity, and to stop his parents for breaking up, after his mother (Sally Hawkins) reconnects with new neighbour and old flame mystic Graham (Paddy Considine).
This film is all about character and style. The characters - even a passing schoolboy - are all so brilliantly played by the actors: they are real, awkward, cowardly, pathetic, but most of all have sublime comedic timing. Craig Roberts is absolutely perfect as Oliver. Not only does he deliver his lines impeccably - unwittingly wanton - even his face is just perfect for the role: it embodies dweeby teen and faux adult all in one. He's extremely clued into everything that is happening in his world, and has an insatiable desire to control it - even if it means stalking, breaking and entering, and getting into the most toe curling of incidents (the "dad still wants to make love to you" scene with his mother, and the reading the suicide note out in class are all classic examples you'll find yourself sub-consciously howling at). Yasmin Paige is also a real gem as pyromaniac and PDA shunning Jordana: no-nonsense and tough on the surface, a timid and lonely girl underneath. The reasons for this, highlighted in a pre-Christmas dinner scene at her house, is black comedy pushed to the limit. You'll either laugh or you'll cry.
But it's the parents who probably steal the film for me: the cringey conversations they have with their son (who they believe is gay and has mental problems, further encouraged by Oliver) are absolutely priceless. Noah Taylor as the marine biologist-stroke-mildly depressive father was just absolutely wonderful. I defy you not to say "K-nock K-nock!" every time you enter a room. Paddy Considine was also a particular lolriot as the aura reading new age hippy psychic mystic, complete with kung fu dance moves.
To get such a cast is testament to the power of director Richard Ayoade, who has long been liked and respected as an actor in Garth Marenghi, Nathan Barley, The Mighty Boosh (and that other not so good show). For his debut he picked the perfect material, but all the rest is him - putting his own unique style and look on things, finally allowing the creative genius in there to peep out. A lot of people have compared him to Wes Anderson - some calling him the British Wes Anderson - and I get the Rushmore parallels, yes. Even when a heartbroken Oliver is drinking lemon from the same cup - absolutely something a Jason Schwartzman character would do. (FYI: the film it actually reminded me of the most was Todd Solondz's Welcome To The Dollhouse). But Ayoade is different. He manages to keep things very real in a non-compromising and humble way: there's less surreal here, and more 'yes, yes, that's exactly what would happen' moments. He's definitely a talent to keep an eye on, and I hope the film has huge success in America (it's out there next month).
Eminently likable and shamefully funny too, Submarine is a film I have a million people to recommend it to - hopefully they've seen it already. It makes me a little bit patriotic... (ish, ish).