Richard Ayoade has found his place. Best known for his portrayal as arch-geek Moss from TV’s The IT Crowd, he made a brief foray to the big screen with a cameo in 2009’s Bunny And The Bull. Submarine marks his first jaunt behind the camera and it’s clear he’s finally found where he belongs as it’s is a delight to watch, a touching and frequently hilarious examination of youth, reality, identity and coming of age, set against the windswept Welsh seaside.
Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts)is a cerebral and introverted teenager embarking upon his first relationship with the surly Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Whilst trying to keep his head about him as he navigates his school hierarchy, he’s also trying to reconcile the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Things are exacerbated by the arrival of a new neighbour Graham (Paddy Considine looking eerily like a young Gary Oldman), a new age “mystic” with a preposterous haircut and ridiculous leather trousers who happens to be his mother’s former boyfriend and Oliver takes it upon himself to keep them as far apart as possible.
Oliver is a committed cinephile – he wishes his life was filmed by a camera crew at all times; he composes shots, angles and 360 degree pans in his head and stores memories as imaginary Super 8 footage. Submarine draws much of its humour from Oliver’s cast-iron over-elaborate narration about how he thinks life should be in contrast to how things actually are – the perfect example of life desperately trying to imitate art.
He’s played to perfection by Craig Roberts, who delivers every line with deadpan certainty even in the face of the absudb, whether it’s planning to poison his girlfriend’s dog, urinate on his neighbour’s possessions or lose his virginity. There’s more than a little bit of rabbit in the headlights about him, he always looks poised to flee; he’s a teenager who isn’t completely comfortable in his own skin.
His girlfriend Jordana has no such existential dilemma and her extroversion is the perfect foil to his neuroses. After taking her to a silent movie, he foists Salinger, Nietzsche and Shakespeare upon her prompting her to retort “Why would I want to be more like you?”, instead preferring to indulge her pyromania by setting fire to skips and singeing his leg hair.
The submarine of the title is never referred to explicitly but Oliver’s dad describes his depression like “being under water”. That’s not the only kind of submergence going on here; Jordana is struggling to keep her head above water as she deals with her terminally ill mum; Oliver’s mother is floundering in the numbing tedium of her own marriage and Oliver is barely afloat in a sea of his teenage identity crisis.
But this is not simply a melodramatic exercise in self-indulgence. Submarine is by turns extremely funny, touching and tellingly human, blending drama and offbeat comedy to create one of this year’s best films. It’s an astoundingly confident debut from Richard Ayoade and one which will hopefully see him emerge as one of Britain’s best filmmakers and as for Craig Roberts, when it comes to awkward teenagers, Michael Cera had better start looking over his shoulder.