Submarine – Richard Ayoade’s arty teenage geek surfaces in 1980s Wales

Submarine - Oliver (Craig Roberts)

Richard Ayoade, best known as afro-haired computer geek Moss in The IT Crowd, makes his film directing debut with Submarine, an appealingly quirky coming-of-age comedy based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne.

The film’s hero, played by puppyish Craig Roberts, is a nerdy teenage schoolboy – a type we’ve all seen on screen before. Yet Ayoade makes his exploits seem fresh. That’s partly down to the film’s setting – 1980s coastal Wales rather than American suburbia – but Ayoade’s confident cinematic touch has a lot to do with it too.

He cut his filmmaking teeth making videos for the Arctic Monkeys (Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has returned the favour by providing Submarine’s songs) and his feature debut has the same energy and visual panache.

Ayoade is confident enough behind the camera to go in for such New-Wave-y cinematic tricks as sudden camera zooms and freeze frames, iris shots and snatches of Super 8. You’d think all this would be overly arty and self-indulgent, yet it actually suits the film’s introspective, painfully self-conscious protagonist to a T.

Submarine - Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate and Yasmin Paige as Jordana

When he is not conjuring up images of Diana-like grieving over his own imagined death, 15-year-old Oliver Tate is fretting over the state of his parents’ marriage (are they having enough sex), the state of his own love life (no sex yet) and his place in his school’s ever-shifting hierarchy of bullies and bullied.

His own hesitant attempt at bullying an overweight girl actually wins him a girlfriend, mischievous pyromaniac Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and the pair are soon getting up to all sorts of giddy capers with fireworks and Polaroids.

Meanwhile, however, Ollie’s mother (Sally Hawkins) looks as though she might start dallying with an old flame, mullet-haired New Age guru Graham (a hilarious Paddy Considine), and his marine biologist father (Noah Taylor) is sinking deeper into depression. Can Ollie ensure his parents stay together – and lose his virginity?

Ayoade’s film won’t click with everyone, but I was more than happy to hang around with Ollie and Jordana and find out their fate. I’m sure many others will too, and they’ll probably share my recognition of the film’s portrayal of adolescence with all its insecurities and enthusiasms, solemnity and silliness.

Submarine opens LoCo, the London Comedy Film Festival, and goes on general release on 18th March.

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