As far as comic actors go there are very few that I like, this is because they either aren’t funny or they take eventually themselves too seriously. One of my favourites from the current crop is Richard Ayaode, but because he hasn’t got an instantly recognisable name I often have to resort to describing him as the black guy with the afro in the IT crowd. Well, it turns out that the black guy with the afro has made his directorial debut; therefore he is threatening to enter into the field of actors who take themselves too seriously. He has directed music videos before but his debut feature is a screen adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s book Submarine.
To describe what Submarine is about makes it sound like an awful British take on American Pie. It’s the story of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) a school boy who is trying to lose his virginity to his girlfriend, Jordana (Yasmin Paige), and whilst doing this he is also trying to prevent his new next door neighbour Graham (Paddy Considine) from stealing his Mum’s affections (Sally Hawkins), despite this Oliver is trying to keep his Mum and Dad (Noah Taylor) together. It might sound like a British American Pie, but this couldn’t be further from the truth as instead of the usual revolving door to boisterous Americans we have a neurotic lad full of quixotic wonder for the world who is more than a little arrogant. Thanks to his personality he is bullied quite exhaustively by his class mates. This is because they think he is gay, despite that Submarine is Oliver’s story of first love.
What we have here is about a teenage boy trying to lose his parents’ marriage whilst trying to keep his family together and being bulled at school, it sounds like the perfect example of British kitchen sink drama. Thankfully that isn’t true; I don’t think it would have been such a success at the Sundance Festival if that was the case. The uniqueness of the film and its refusal to fit in an established style of British cinema becomes clear in the first sequence whose arrival is boldly announced through the brilliant use of title cards. As early as the epilogue we are treated to one of the most gloriously funny comedy sequences I have seen in a while. All those laughs start when Oliver thinks about what would happen if he were to die, what follows is a sequence of increasingly ridiculous set pieces, I was in a fit of giggles at this. The film came out punching from the start. As funny as I was we are talking about death here, this will offend as much as it as makes the audience laugh uncontrollably.
Back to the positives, the film continues to be hilarious thanks to the awkward shyness of the lead from the incredible detail in which he spies on his parents to the way in which he occasionally directs the film. On the odd occasion when the narration syncs in with the direction is a subtle but indisputable masterstroke by Ayaode.
It will be clear by this stage of the review that I think the lead performance by Craig Roberts is radiant. But rewind to a few years ago when the last British child actor to get the film world all giddy was Thomas Thurgoose, the gulf in class between the two really does put Thurgoose in the shade. The other side of this teenage romance is played by Yasmin Paige, and she is undoubtedly good, but she seemed a bit smug with the characters nuances. I know this is a weird thing to comment on but the clip-on Lego haircut and the way she holds her face was a bit creepy. But maybe that’s what the Don’t Look Now reference was getting at. The rest of the young cast was played to a standard sufficient to not draw focus away from the central players.
The teenage story of love is one of the main focuses of the story being told here, but the other side is something much more akin to what you would find in a kitchen sink drama, and that is the films look at adult love. I guess this is what the film could be read as, how love changes over time, from your first to your last. Somewhat predictably this tale of dwindling love is acted out of a standard that you would expect from such a stellar cast, that and they all seemed to be having the times of their life. It would be unfair to point to one as being a standout as they all showed why they are in such high regard from the bored housewife with a penchant for paranoia to a depressed marine-biologist and the icing on the cake is a mystic with the best mullet this side of the 1980s.
Submarine is many things, it’s an incredibly wordy film, this is shown best by the lead character who reads the dictionary and the sole use of the word atavistic that I can recall throughout my time with the cinematic medium. More importantly though, this is the most fun I have had at the cinema all year and thanks to that I believe it is film like this which makes British cinema cool. Part of this is born from Alex Turner’s inclusion, yet as much of a selling point as he is; his soundtrack was the only bad part of the film. It’s the most generic factory produced music that you could ever hope to hear. It almost bored my ears to sleep, if that’s possible. His music might have been dull. But with names like his and the producers – Ben Stiller – it helps this glorious revival reach the heights it deserves. Submarine is a shockingly good debut in a year of shockers. Just to round up this review, in response to my opening remark – Ayaode may have strayed into realms of seriousness but in doing so he has become a much respected and valued director.