Review: “Submarine” an Under-the-Radar Charmer

A young man in Wales prepares for the night of his eventual lost-virginity by readying a meal -- replete with boxed white wine -- for his lady love, and arranging his parents' forlorn-looking bedroom with a jaunty red bedspread, champagne and two red balloons. Ah, the dating rituals of the respectful, young male: two parts quaint and heartbreakingly earnest, and one part absolutely hopeless.

In director Richard Ayoade's slightly self-conscious but ultimately enjoyable film, "Submarine," based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, the young man's careful, thoughtful efforts are eventually rewarded (off-screen), but that is almost entirely beside the point. Oliver (Craig Roberts) is a considerate sort, erudite and a bit soft-spoken, much like his father Lloyd (Noah Taylor), a marine biologist whose career has hit a bad spell. In the first part of the film, Oliver conspires to win the heart of Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a pale girl with dark hair cut into a shapely bob, and an ever-present red wool coat. Unfortunately, just as things are going swimmingly with Oliver and Jordana, he notices the rift between his parents taking a new pitch for the worse when a new neighbor moves in next door to their mountain-view house. Graham (Paddy Considine) is a kind of new age, mullet-haired snake oil salesman, currently selling himself as a psychic seer of peoples' color spectrums -- and a man whom Oliver observes making oblique kung fu motions during sexual gratification. Graham is also the first love of Oliver's mother, Jill, (Sally Hawkins) and presents a growing challenge to his father's depressed, passive countenance. In short order, Oliver attempts to solidify his relationship with Jordana and save his parents' marriage simultaneously, with very spotty results.

The film owes a great deal in tone to Bill Forsyth's 1981 classic "Gregory's Girl," but it also has its own well-paced comedic voice. As can be expected, Oliver's VO stages the film throughout with a kind of meta sense of the film he would eventually make if he were able to. But rather than get caught in these kinds of flashy and more insincere machinations, the filmmakers sagely keep the knowing nods and winks to a minimum. Notably, unlike, say, "Ferris Bueller," there's never a breaking of the fourth wall; rather, Oliver's self-consciousness and dramatic affectations are for the benefit of an audience who is not, and likely never will be, present, which makes the device far more palatable. It is also not a film of blithe set pieces and lengthy over-the-top shenanigans. It's more droll and contemplative than all that. Instead, the camera focuses intently on the darting eyes of its young protagonist, more than content to let him and the other well-formed characters carry the weight of the piece, and, in the end, that turns out to be a pretty likable arrangement.

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