SUBMARINE (2010)

Spoiler Level: Low.

So I had almost talked myself out of reviewing Submarine, the 2010 film by Richard Ayoade that opened in the U.S. last weekend. It's not that I didn't like the film: I did. The problem is that what I most want to say about it has almost nothing to do with the film itself, and it feels unseemly to unleash a torrent of abuse and invective on this small, charming British film that does not deserve it. Why should I pick on this movie? Why should I link my tangential rant to this first-time feature by actor Richard Ayoade and his very talented cast? If I can't review the movie on its own merits, I thought, I shouldn't be reviewing it at all.

And then I remembered the motto of my website: Nobody gives a rat's ass what I think anyway.

So let's get the review part out of the way. Ayoade (one of the stars of the British series The IT Crowd) is a very talented and promising new director, and he has made a charming, quirky, dry-and-wry coming of age story. The protagonist—15-year old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts)—lives his life like he knows he's in a film; he even correctly predicts in voice-over how some of the shots will be composed. (An early, humorous montage shows his incredibly detailed imagining of his own death, which begins with the school principal's quavering announcement over the P.A. system, and builds to news coverage of nationwide candlelight vigils, with mourners carrying signs that say "We envy the angels.") Oliver clearly feels he is destined for greatness—despite the fact that he is a not-particularly popular high school student living an unremarkable life in a small Welsh village.

Oliver has decided it's time to get himself a girlfriend, and he singles out moody Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a pyromaniacal loner whom Oliver has decided is attainably unpopular herself. Meanwhile, Oliver's parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) are going through a rough, loveless patch in their marriage, which is exacerbated when his mother's old boyfriend—a New Age self-help guru (Paddy Considine)—moves in next door.

Oliver is an amusing character. (After he joins in some group bullying against an ostracized girl in his class, he feels bad enough to compose a pamphlet for her entitled "How to Break Out of the Victim Cycle.")  The relationship that develops between Oliver and Jordana is believably immature, and Ayoade captures nicely Oliver's adolescent self-dramatization: he is a narcissistic teen-ager creating a movie about love in his own head, rather than actually engaging with the real (and considerably more mature) Jordana. Ayoade (who has studied the films of Wes Anderson very closely) achieves a nice visual style, filtering everything through Oliver's romanticized vision of himself. It's a charming enough film, and I would encourage you—if you like this sort of thing—to see it.

Okay? There endeth the review. Hope it was helpful.

(Now, I just have one more thing to say. It is directed at independent filmmakers, and it should in no way be taken as a reflection on Richard Ayoade or Submarine specifically.)

IF I HAVE TO SIT THROUGH ONE MORE FUCKING MOVIE LIKE THIS I WILL SHATTER MY HAROLD AND MAUDE DVD INTO A DOZEN PIECES AND USE THE JAGGED BROKEN SHARDS TO GOUGE MY OWN EYES OUT.

Seriously: ENOUGH. Do we need another fucking Rushmore/Thumbsucker/ Igby Goes Down/Squid and the Whale/ad infinitum movie about an endearingly weird prep-school kid with a bad haircut struggling with first-love and the discovery of his own family's dysfunction? These movies, however well-made, are the cinematic equivalents of the thinly-disguised, pseudo-autobiographical, self-aggrandizing novels we all wrote in college workshops when we were 18 and had just discovered sex, alcohol, and the fact that our parents might have fucked us up. We get it: you were the smart, weird kid in your high school. NOBODY CARES. I understand: you're an "independent" filmmaker with a small budget and a quirky sensibility. I DON'T GIVE A FUCK. STOP trying to create a Holden Caulfield for the new generation: you can't, and we don't need one anyway. We don't need another Harold and Maude, either—and let's face it, your movie is probably no Harold and Maude. In fact, we don't need any more goddamned coming-of-age movies for a while. JUST STOP.

Look, I like independent cinema: I do. But all this affected, self-obsessed, off-beat, WASP-y teen angst is making me want to take a big old Hollywood flamethrower to the next disaffected kid who comes along with bicycle and a bowl cut. Ayoade has talent, and Submarine is a fine enough example of its genre, but it's a story we've seen a hundred times before with a different cast.

There are other stories to tell. Please tell them.

The Unaffiliated Critic

Michael G. McDunnah is a freelance writer, a recovering lit major, a pop-culture junkie, and an unaffiliated critic. He lives in Chicago.

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Comments

  1. If you're sick of these movies then you'll love Gus Van Sant's Restless. (Sarcasm.) All of them are second-raters compared to Harold and Maude, no matter how pretty their cinematography or clever their editing.

    But I was more ill-disposed towards Submarine than these other films (which have evolved into a kind of porn – predictably and cheaply gratifying for its enthusiastic consumers, formulaic as hell) because I despised the two lead characters. The pretentious, amoral, worm and the disturbed, nasty, proto-chav deserve each other.

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