Some will undoubtedly love Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, with some critics already proclaiming the film as a masterpiece. Others unfortunately, myself included, will find the film utterly charmless and self-indulgent.
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine details a stage in the life of fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate. Oliver’s life is overwhelmingly concerned with two issues: his burgeoning relationship with pyromaniac classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and his wish to subsequently lose his virginity with her, and his hopes at reconciling the increasingly wide gulf that has developed between his parents, the depressed Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and the uptight, lovelorn Jill (Sally Hawkins).
Oliver, in his youth, adopts a number of affectations in order to impress upon others the idea that he is highly intellectual. His narration speaks directly to the viewer, detailing not only his thoughts, but the details of the scenes themselves, as well as the lives of other characters. This narration often impinges on the film itself, often offering unnecessary exposition.
Understandably Oliver’s narration is used in an attempt to offer his supposedly unique insight into the world he which he inhabits: insights which more often than not simply annoy and irritate. Oliver, perhaps in an attempt to create a more realistic character, is not a very nice person. The viewer sees him indulging in bullying in order to impress Jordana (although he does later express regret at his actions), he is self-involved, as well as displaying an irrepressible disposition towards pretention.
The film itself, shot in digital, is wonderful to look at, but this is not enough to truly engage the viewer. Oliver is a very difficult character to become close to, his attitudes and pseudo-intellectualism serves to simply distance the viewer from the trials and tribulations he endures.
Whilst Oliver is certainly unlikeable, it is not his personality nor his manner that I found hard to reconcile myself with, but rather my general lack of interest in his character. I found myself disinterested in his plight for the film’s entirety, and thus disinterested in the film itself.
The biggest fault of the film is surely its tendency towards heavy-handedness, and its continual self-reverence. The recurrent Don’t Look Now references, rather than endearing the viewer, feel exclusive, as if only the cultured few could understand and thereby appreciate the film. The chapter titles too, feel clichéd, and abruptly break any fluidity the film may have had.
Many have noted the clear influence Wes Anderson has notably had upon Ayoade’s film; unfortunately Ayoade’s film crucially misses the endearing quality that Anderson’s Rushmore, for example, had in such abundance. Oliver’s pretentiousness nature simply grates rather than amuses, his attempts at wooing Jordana are entirely cringe worthy severely lacking in wit. He is simply not interesting to warrant his providing the basis of the film.
Ayoade is clearly a talented filmmaker, and perhaps in the future he will direct a masterpiece; Submarine however, is simply not his masterpiece.