Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Clever Welsh Film about Coming-of-age

      Boy meets a girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl turns out to be more promiscuous than boy would have liked, boy is socially inept and can't deal well with his problems alone--this is the basic concept to most teenage angst stories told nowadays, but what makes Submarine different?

     This quirky drama from Wells seems to cover all the criteria that makes a good coming-of-age film: love, family, loss, heart-ache, witty dialogue, a "Catcher In The Rye" reference, unrealistic, yet amusing situations and of course angst. And truth is, you've probably seen it before, the film channels a little of the aforementioned criteria through other similar films: Igby Goes Down, Thumbsucker, Imaginary Heroes, Lymelife, etc.

     After Robert Redford's 1980 Best Picture film Ordinary People, there's been a slew of films, dealing with similar issues. Usually a troubled or shy teenage boy, falls in love with the wrong type of girl and runs into some very uncomfortable situations he has to deal with. In the past, such films have approached this differently. There's the offbeat/quirky tone, prevalent in Wes Anderson's hilarious Rushmore, also Rocket Science, and Running with Scissors. Then there's the dark/more satirist tones in The Squid and the Whale, Donnie Darko, Afterschool (very dark, indeed), and The United States of Leland. So, what makes Submarine stand out?
     Well, for starters it's from Wells. This might sound funny, but when was the last time you saw a good Welsh movie? You don't care? Alright, fair enough. It's a fairly simple premise then:

     Oliver (played by an incredibly amiable Craig Roberts) fancies Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and is adamant to win her over, but his shy/awkward manner prevents him from approaching her at first. Jordana takes control, as is her personality, and makes the first move. From then on, we see the slow and often funny relationship between the two develop, however, it's not all smooth sailing from then on. Meanwhile, Oliver plays arbitrator in his parents' relationship and tries desperately to keep his family together. What happens in between is a mix of laughter, clever dialogue, touching moments, and a general concern for Oliver.

     Yes, while this film is like other teenage-angst films in many ways, it adequately covers the central message meant to be elicited by all these films and that's a genuine connection and affection for the protagonist. And Oliver is no exception. He's awkward--yes, and does he do things, I wish he wouldn't have?--of course, but he has a kind nature about him and there's no denying a connection here, even when you watch him mess up.

     Richard Ayoade directed and wrote this charming and clever film, based on the book by Joe Dunthorne. Ayoade has no problem communicating this story through funny interior-monologues, seamless back and forth editing and a consistent tone throughout. Ben Stiller executive produced the film, which probably helped it get distribution overseas (and if you look carefully you can see him make a small cameo).

     Overall, Submarine is the kind of tale I never tire of seeing. Its premise is nothing original, but seeing young directors and actors take on this challenge of reinventing such films breathes new life into it. Trying to navigate through the deep and murky waters of adolescence is tough, but Submarine manages to traverse just fine through it.

Rating: B+



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