Sundance 2011: SUBMARINE Review

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor
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[With Richard Ayoade's Submarine now screening at Sundance we revisit our previous review from Toronto.]

Meet Oliver Tate, carrier of briefcase, wearer of sharp coat, reader of dictionary, lover (from afar) of Jordana Brewster. Clever, but not people clever, Oliver is better with words than with actions and better with actions than with emotions which means he is not very good with emotions at all. Which is a problem because between his feelings for Jordana and his creeping dread that his parents' marriage is slowly falling apart, Oliver has rather a lot of emotions to deal with. And so we begin the epic (in Oliver's mind) odyssey of Submarine, the debut feature from Richard Ayoade.

Let me say this right from the outset: Fans of Ayoade the comic actor - probably known best from his bits on The IT Crowd or Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - had best be prepared to see a lot less of him in front of the camera because after Submarine he's going to be spending a lot more time behind it. Clever, charming, funny, and touching, Submarine is very likely the discovery moment of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival, the one film that announces the arrival of a very significant new talent, one who has seemingly arrived on the scene fully formed. Expect comparisons to Wes Anderson to abound and fair enough on that front, with Rushmore being an obvious point of comparison on the too-smart-for-his-own-good, self referential, awkward teenage romance front but if this is Anderson it's Anderson by way of Harold And Maude and the French New Wave and far, far more sincere than anything of the sort to come out of America in the past couple decades. Yes, this is very, very good.

Making it so is a stellar cast, each perfectly chosen for their roles. Craig Roberts is just fantastic as Oliver, the young actor turning in a star-making performance that sees him equally at ease in both comic and dramatic territory. Yasmin Page delivers a surprisingly complex Jordana, and the rest of the support players at school ring perfectly true. On the adult front Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor - in a part about as far removed from his recent dive into psychosis in Simon Rumley's Red White And Blue as is humanly possible - turn in hilarious displays of quiet neurosis, while Paddy Considine is bang on as the possible disruptor of marital bliss, a mulleted motivational speaker with a penchant for practicing kung fu while on the receiving end of oral pleasure.

Behind the camera Ayoade shows a remarkable ability to be stylish without resorting to artificiality, his use of natural locations allowing him to play with editing and narrative structure while still keeping his players feeling like real people. Helping him along on this front is an equally remarkable ability to keep his characters bursts of neurosis and self-reference not just within their characters but to employ them in ways that actually propel their characters. There is no Napoleon Dynamite dance in this film, nothing included purely because it is absurd or clever. Yes, there are plenty of absurd and clever bits but all of them also serve some sort of larger purpose.

Ayoade has built a large and loyal fanbase as an actor essentially by playing someone stiffly but pleasantly out of touch with his emotions. And while his likeability as a performer clearly carries over to his work as a writer and director, Ayoade is clearly not out of touch with anything. This is sharp, assured work and well deserving of all the love we can heap upon it. Practically perfect, I wouldn't change a thing.


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