Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with one of the highlights of the 2011 Sundance film festival so far.
I think it was my very young viewing of Stand By Me that cemented my love of coming of age movies. It’s a genre that is often attempted, but it’s rare that it is nailed. I’d say Submarine nails it.
On the surface it’s a bleak, quirky dark comedy about a weird kid who is maybe a little too smart for his own good that has to juggle his first romance and the growing distance between his parents.
The bit of description above may paint a certain picture in your mind’s eye, but there’s much more richness to the movie than a brief plot synopsis can convey. Much like Rushmore isn’t just about a kid who has a crush on his teacher the level of detail in the characters, the comedy and the world is what really makes this flick work.
Young Craig Roberts plays the lonely weird brainy Oliver Tate, a Harold (of & Maude) like teenager who targets an odd girl in his class to be his first love. Unlike most romantic comedies (dark or not) the odd girl isn’t the super model in glasses nerd or the unique poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s kind of a cunt to be honest, a bully who is so cruel and emotionless that the word “cunt” might be too nice.
Of course you see a softening of this character, Jordana (Gemma Chan), but it’s not as radical as you’d come to expect in the more surface-level homogenized studio teenage comedies.
Yes, there’s quite a bit of “indie quirk” here, but it doesn’t feel forced. Indie quirk is a lot like sentimentality… when wielded like a hammer it misses the target, but when handled with scalpel-like precision it can be absolutely effective.
Roberts carries this film with a quiet enthusiasm that is quite infectious. You’re with this kid from the beginning and rooting for him all the way. You groan for him when he fucks up, you feel like cheering for him when he succeeds. In other words it’s a very involving character, which gives us an entry point to the weirdness of the world.
Let me give you an example of the weirdness. A mulleted Paddy Considine pops up as a nearby neighbor and childhood sweetheart of our lead’s mom. He has a van that is airbrushed with an image of his giant head, advertising his psychic powers. This dude, who Oliver calls a ninja because he routinely throws wild martial arts kicks and punches in his backyard (badly), starts seducing his mother and his meek dad (played by the great Noah Taylor) refuses to step in and stop it. If made in America this would have been a Danny McBride character and that’s the main threat to this marriage.
Writer/Director Richard Ayoade deftly shifts between sweetness, cruelty, comedy, tenderness, anarchy, quirkiness, drama and melancholy without the transition ever being jarring. It’s quite a focused film with a wide variety of subject matter, odd because the movie feels so contained.
The Weinstein Company has this, so I’m sure you’ll see it roll out in a biggish limited release sometime later this year. If you like flicks like Rushmore and Harold & Maude then I’m willing to bet you’ll dig this one, too.
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