Thanks to the lovely folk at MIFF, I scored a few free tickets to the films of my choice, the first of which was always going to be Submarine. (I’m also seeing Norwegian film Troll Hunter, and forked out myself to go see Miranda July’s The Future, and am still tempted by others—Hobo with a Shotgun, who could resist?) Submarine was high on my list for many reasons: it’s directed by Richard Ayoade, otherwise known as Moss from the almost-perfect television show The IT Crowd; it’s getting great reviews; and, most importantly, I’d read the book as a brightly-illustrated reading copy when it first came out and just about fell to pieces reading it. It was ridiculously, unfairly funny and brilliant, and—better yet—when I wrote some fanmail to author Joe Dunthorne about it via facebook (thanks, social media), he even replied. I won’t tell you what I wrote to him, because looking back three years later it is actually incredibly cringeworthy, but just know it involved the story that I read the book with my hand over my mouth on the tram so no one could see my permanent smirky grin. His reply was short, sweet, and very kind, and thus I am a diehard Submarine fan 4eva, and you should all go read it immediately.
Onto the movie itself: relentlessly funny from the first scene, Submarine is pitch-perfect from cast to script, a joyous few hours punctuated by serious moments but always teetering on the edge of comedy. Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, also in the current Fassbender-filled Jane Eyre) is a high-school kid smarter than your average adolescent, who searches the dictionary for new words to learn, tries not to get involved in his gangly friend Chips’ (Darren Evans) schoolboy shenanigans, but who is willing to do anything to impress the girl of his dreams, the realistically crushable Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Back at home, the relationship between his parents (Happy-Go-Lucky’s Sally Hawkins and our very own Noah Taylor) is stagnating, as they mope around the house in neutral colours having awkward conversations. Oliver’s perfect world would be made up of Jordana as his girlfriend and lover—so he can lose his virginity before he turns sixteen—and his parents also back to the saucy days of yore when the dimmer switch in their bedroom would be set to half instead of full. Damaging his chances are his own personality—the scene where he tries to seduce a cynical Jordana is fall-on-the-floor hilarious—and the arrival of an old love interest of his mother’s, the mulleted and spiritually alight Graham (Paddy Considine).
Every scene is injected with humour, even the most serious. Somehow this doesn’t make the movie’s darker moments superficial, but just realistic: the ridiculousness of life doesn’t stop just because things are going horribly wrong. Oliver’s narration of the story makes the whole film very self-aware but his naivety is more endearing than painful. When, at the beginning, he imagines his death and the mourning of everyone he knows—up to and including the entire country of Wales—a television announcer declares “We are witnessing unprecedented scenes of quiet devastation”, and we know we are in the mind of a typically atypical teenager, worried about his place in the world and the lack of control he has within it.
The music and sound is wonderful, indie-quirky while still convincing you that you’re in the eighties setting of the film. Music is cut off abruptly for dramatic effect and the crescendo of sound at important moments, like Oliver and Jordana’s first blackmail-induced smooch underneath a railway bridge, packs just as much punch as your first kiss probably did. I am going to investigate the soundtrack further. The muted colours of Oliver’s home life contrast perfectly with the splash of red that is Jordana and her favourite coat, and the mystical colour explosion that is Graham. It is a well put-together film, nothing detracting from what is essentially a character piece where all the characters are agreeably quirky and slightly horrible.
The high level of quirkiness, the independent vibe, and the lovestruck teen are things you may have encountered before in film; Chris compared it to Rushmore, but I couldn’t help but compare it to the book. Anything it does differently from the book makes perfect sense cinematically, but still, changes in the original intellectual property can’t help but grate when you loved the original as much as I did. It is probably better to see this without having read the book, so everyone’s zany little moments are shining new. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t love it—Submarine is one of the best comedies of the year, and when it (hopefully) makes general release, please go see it. And tell Joe Dunthorne I sent you. (No, don’t.)
Really, how I have written such a serious review for such a funny movie is beyond me. Maybe I have given up in the face of clearly superior talent. Ayoade and Dunthorne, I salute and love you and if need be am available for marriage and/or a short affair in the back of your van.