Mark Reviews Movies

Submarine

SUBMARINE (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Richard Ayoade

Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 6/3/11 (limited); 6/10/11 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 9, 2011

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) has issues. He longs to be accepted by his classmates, especially a girl he fancies. He imagines what the reaction to his death would be, probably overdoing it in envisioning a candlelight vigil held by the entire population of his native country of Wales. He routinely spies on his parents, searching through their belongings and routinely checking the level of the dimmer switch in their bedroom to check whether or not they've had sex the previous night. He also has a tendency to call the act (and even just the process of dating) "love making," which is really neither here nor there but sounds rather odd coming from an eager 15-year-old kid whose hormones are raging.

Submarine presents Oliver without apology for his behavior but with plenty of sympathy for him as a young man with a lot of personal problems on his plate. No matter how odd and potentially damaging his actions may be—a little pyromania here, a bit of bullying on an already tormented girl there—Oliver is at least trying to make someone else happy, even if he ends up hurting another person in the process. He only throws an overweight girl's backpack around, causing her to fall into a pond, because his crush Jordana (Yasmin Paige) enjoys watching a little bullying every now and then. Then again, one could also notice that his ultimate goal is to keep himself content by cheering up/harming others. He is, after all, only trying to entertain Jordana's misanthropic side so that she'll notice him and, maybe then, start dating him and, if they're going out, let him commence with the "love making."

It's hard to dislike Oliver, because he's just a kid who wants his life to be simple and easy and perfect. He hasn't learned to cope with the fact that difficulties arise, that people will not always fit into his vision of the ideal, and that, no matter how much he tries, not everything can be fixed. Most of all, he doesn't understand that all of these things are not only acceptable but also normal.

Part of the problem is his home life. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) suffers from depression (Once that's revealed, it's clear that Oliver carries this burden as well). Lloyd once hosted a television program about marine life but had the misfortunate tendency of an awkward screen presence, emphasized by sporadic, unnatural hand gestures. He now teaches the subject but never quite got over the disappointment of his failed TV career, even after spending days at a time in his robe and drinking glass upon glass of water with lemon using the same lemon.

Oliver's mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is a quiet person, unable to comprehend her husband's tendency to live in the dumps. A couple, a New Age motivational speaker named Graham (Paddy Considine) and his live-in girlfriend (Gemma Chan), moves in next door, and as it happens, Graham is Jill's first love from when she was a teenager. She begins rifling through a box of mementos from then and talking to her mother on the phone for advice, while Oliver watches from outside the door and listens in on another phone.

Most of Oliver's adventures, adapted from Joe Dunthorne's novel by writer/director Richard Ayoade (He plays with the first-person narration, like when Oliver tells his mother he's obsessive as a joke only to be seen rummaging through her dresser or when he imagines a film biography of his life would not have the budget for an elaborate crane shot and would instead opt for a zoom out), concern his relationship with Jordana. She's an emotion-fearing girl who refuses physical contact unless it's of her own making (In one scene, when Oliver attempts to put his arm around her, she brushes it away, leading them to repeat the movements).

Oliver either likes the challenge or feels comfortable with the stability with which her personality presents him. There's evidence for both possibilities, meaning it's a bit of both—in tune with his contradictory nature. On the one hand, he overdoes the preparation for their first time "love making" (Dressing up, making a fancy dinner, decorating his parents' bedroom in flowers and candles, and writing a creepy love letter about drinking Jordana's blood that she finds less off-putting than the other arrangements). On the other, he runs, not at the first sign of trouble when she reveals her mother has a brain tumor, but when she actually displays the kind of emotional depth he tries to show with his sexual planning.

Ayoade's considerate treatment of the film's protagonist is most vital after Oliver's climactic decision not to do anything. It's not that he would rather be alone and miserable instead of having to confront pain; he simply cannot help it. Submarine is kind enough to give him a second chance.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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