May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
July 26, 2011
The first impulse while watching Submarine is to start thinking about Wes Anderson. It soon becomes clear that this analogy doesn’t quite fit, so you move onto Hal Ashby. This fits a little bit better, but leaves too much wiggle room, so you start thinking about Truffaut. When the san-serifed intertitles, freeze-frames, and Anna Karina haircuts begin to click, Godard becomes an option. But regardless, as a fan of The IT Crowd*, the entire affair was initially dominated by the voiceover, which had a cadence and wit that could only be the product of this man:
This soon wore off, and I was able to settle into Submarine on its own terms. It is all pretty garden variety stuff. An adolescent boy falls in love with a girl in his class. Through a series of mishaps, she becomes his girlfriend. This curious romance falters when the boy struggles to save his parent’s marriage and the girl worries about her mother about to die from cancer. Expected high school romance antics ensue.
But Submarine transcends this typical scheme in multiple ways. Richard Ayoade’s 1980s Swansea is rich with comical and nostalgic detail. The plight of this young boy comes to life in a voiceover alarmingly disconnected from the reality of his situation. His passage through this difficult chapter of his life is marked by leg hair pyromania, dog-poisonings, feats of schoolyard courage, terribly embarrassing notes to his mother, and related attempts to stave off a looming sense of loss. I found Submarine and its overly produced characters quite moving. They collectively create a sense of love and mercy that are absent by design from films like The Squid and the Whale. The film somehow makes a shot of Oliver reading a book about being a better boyfriend next to his father watching TV a memorable image about growing older and realizing that our parents are subject to the same fears that plague us. As a coming-of-age tale, it captures that feeling of what it is like to look into a very adult future and feel worried about what it all means.
And it really is Oliver’s parents that drew me into the film. Despite the constant gentle comedy that hits the film from every angle, it is packed with characters that would not be out of place in a Mike Leigh film. The slow unraveling of this stodgy couple is itself a masterpiece of “quiet desperation.” A dinner scene where Oliver finally meets Jordana’s parents is similarly rich with the shocking stuff of reality, anchoring the film in something much grander that Ayoade’s humor would suggest.
Someone needs to watch this film and tell me if I am out to lunch, but I think this is brilliant, even healing, stuff.
* If you only ever watch one episode of The IT Crowd, Series 4, Episode 1 is hysterical even if you have never played Dungeons and Dragons. Among many options, it is Moss’ finest moment.