‘Submarine’ by Richard Ayoade

This was pitched to me, ten minutes before I sat down in front of the screen, as “a coming-of-age film set in Swansea, probably better than ‘Made In Dagenham’. Most of that was actually true, but it was much more enjoyable than the average “coming-of-age” film, which, it is debatable, is a genre that is done to death. I found it more a film about an episode in a teenager’s life, and maybe he learnt some things about what happened, but it wasn’t fantastic revelation, and he didn’t win, and you’re not really sure whether to laugh or cry at the end. Which is quite atypical of the usual film in this category.

So. Mr Ayoade. Also known as Moss, Dean Learner, Shaman Saboo, and others, this man adapted his screenplay from a book by Joe Dunthorne. His directorial debut, Ayoade didn’t actually star in the film, but it was rather good. It’s main protagonist, Oliver Tate, is an only child (I believe) who thinks he’s something of a genius and can solve a range of problems, but is in fact just something of an outcast. Not so much the bully’s victim, more just someone you ignore because they’re “weird”. Soon into the film, he strikes up a friendship (I hasten to use the word “relationship”) with a girl called Jordana, who seems just as outcasty and weird, so they suit each other. Being a very dutiful boy, Oliver goes to great lengths to be the best boyfriend in the world, but frequently gets it wrong as his new girlfriend is distinctly not interested in anything romantic.

“With this in mind, I took Jordana to one of my favourite industrial estates,” was one of my favourite lines. This film is very funny – the script is quite an achievement, and probably my favourite part. There’s an endearing montage of Oliver and Jordana’s first two weeks together. I hate montages as they seem such a cop-out, but this showed them lighting match after match, running on the beach in Swansea, sitting in an abandoned bath tub, walking Jordana’s dog and other silly things young people might do. The acting was also good – another achievement when working with younger actors. I did have some qualms with the context though: the costumes could have passed for the 80s, and there wasn’t much reference to modern-day culture. The only culture really talked about was Shakespeare and JD Salinger, both of which I hope were before the time of the setting.

Oliver Tate comes across many predicaments in the few months the film is set, which involve his parents having marital problems and Jordana’s mother having a brain tumour. He is torn between which to dedicate more time to save, and when he is asked to go to the hospital with Jordana for her mother’s operation, he feels he can’t make it and stays at home to talk to his dad. This was one of his mistakes, as you’d be pretty upset if you were the girlfriend here. He doesn’t call her – his reasoning being that if the operation was a success then she’d be so happy that she’d forgive him in no time. And if it wasn’t a success, she’d need time and space to grieve. I found the most touching scene to be between Jordana and her family. Oliver is invited round to have Christmas early as it might be the last one they get together, and everything seems peachy until a light bulb blows and her dad gets pretty angry.. This culminates in a weepy hug for Jordana’s family, and Oliver not knowing what to do, and continuing to awkwardly consume his meal.

He is convinced his mother is having an affair with their new next door neighbour, as he was his mother’s “first” and because she spends too much time with him. There’s an amusing scene where he imagines his dad helping her pack to leave him, but it’s all part of the film’s bittersweet undertones, which make it mean more than the average comedy. He “ups” his surveillance on his parents, especially his mother, and eventually at New Years, sees her and the neighbour sneaking into the back of his van. Oliver decides the best course of action is to break into the neighbour’s house, and wakes up the next day with his parents by his bed talking very matter-of-factly about what really happened.

His actions culminate in Jordana finding a new boyfriend for a while and his parents staying together. He receives a parcel of the books his lent Jordana, which comes with a note saying “oh and by the way, my mother’s fine now,” and he realises that maybe he’s not the genius he thought he was. This was something of a riches to rags moment in the film, which I rather liked as it was quite unusual. He runs afer Jordana on the beach and they have words – she doesn’t have a new boyfriend but she’s still pretty mad at him. Understandable. I think they could have ended the film here, but they have an awkward moment of walking into the water, shoes and all, which I’m not sure I understood the point of. Because that was it – no “ok, we’re back on then”, or “actually just fuck off and die” – that was literally it. They had mild smiles whilst doing it, but it’s not a particularly conclusive end. Which is no bad thing.

I’d say the only downsides about this film were that it was pitched as a coming of age comedy drama, and that you’re not quite sure when it’s set. I don’t know if the last part really makes much of a difference but I usually like to know where I am with a film. The bonus of not knowing is that you can see if it would work in any time. I would much prefer if this had just been pitched to me as “a film about a teenager who thinks he can save the world but can’t save anything yet”. Either way, it was still an enjoyable watch and very, very funny. The kind of humour that restores your faith in comic writing after being aghast at shows like ‘Miranda’ and the standard of funny in Comic Relief 2011. I recommend it.