Netflix Pick: “Submarine” comes of age
Wednesday, April 4, 2012 Leave a comment
I’m one of those people that finds it very difficult to resist the draw of a good coming-of-age story. Something about tales of young people discovering who they are and what it’s like to be a part of the “real world” really gets to me, particularly if they’re presented with style and a unique voice. Therefore, I was very excited when I heard the rumblings of a great one making the rounds at film festivals a year or so ago. That film was “Submarine,” and it’s now available on Netflix Instant Streaming, allowing me to finally check it out for myself. If you’re wondering how much I loved this movie, read all about it after the break!
“Submarine” is the story of Welsh 15-year-old Oliver Tate as he attempts to solve the universal problem of figuring out how to get laid. He navigates these dangerous waters by making astute observations, taking studious notes, and eventually setting plans in motion that utilize his findings. He applies logic whenever possible, trying his absolute best to play himself up and gain the interest of a classmate named Jordana. Meanwhile, his parents’ dying marriage is put in danger by the recent appearance of his mother’s old flame, and he uses similar strategies to try and save their relationship.
Written and directed by Richard Ayoade (who you may know as Moss from the British sitcom The IT Crowd), the film absolutely oozes style. While it shares many stylistic similarities to the films of Wes Anderson (as well as the films that influenced Anderson, chiefly “Harold and Maude” in this case), it manages to find a voice all its own. This is largely thanks to the tremendous script by Ayoade, which is adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne with whimsical cinematic flair. The dialog is witty and engaging, and the narrative structure follows a classical and clearly demarcated act structure. The cinematography and editing compliments the film’s dry sense of humor beautifully and makes for a wonderfully melancholy aesthetic atmosphere.
Featuring original score by Andrew Hewitt and a slew of beautiful original songs by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, the soundtrack is exactly the kind of lovelorn fair you might expect from a great coming-of-age film. It matches the quiet, dreary tone of suburban Wales, contributing to the very personal nature of an intimate character story such as this. Music is an important part of appealing to the romantic in all of us, and the film even highlights this explicitly in a scene where Oliver’s father gives him a mix tape upon finding out that he has a girlfriend. In that light, the success of the soundtrack is a tremendously important one.
Perhaps even more important than the music is the performance of the protagonist, and Craig Roberts does a phenomenal job as Oliver Tate. Oliver is a great character that wants to approach everything with logic and sensibility but is often confronted with the harsh emotional reality of other people’s lives. It forces him to confront his own emotions (as any great coming-of-age story should), and Roberts handles the subtlety and awkwardness of such moments fabulously. He’s never too cold or too affected, either of which could have easily happened in a less sure-footed performance. He also handles the comedy brilliantly, delivering a very well-written script with confidence (or lack thereof, when necessary).
“Submarine” is my favorite coming of age film since “Rushmore,” which is one of my absolute favorite films. They’re similar in many ways, but Ayoade manages to carve out a unique directorial voice that I’m very excited to see more of in the future. His script is tremendous as well, and I would love to see what he could do with original material. I do hope that this film does for Craig Roberts what “Rushmore” did for Jason Schwartzman, though. I highly recommend it to anyone who would enjoy this sort of thing, which is to say anyone with a soul.
If you do watch it, I recommend playing “Spot the Stiller.” No, the executive producer credit doesn’t count.