Submarine

Oliver Tate is a fifteen year old Welsh boy with two ambitions in life: to save his parent’s crumbling marriage and to lose his virginity before he turns 16. From that conventional premise springs this tale of anxiety that is surprisingly bitter when it isn’t utterly boring.

Adolescent angst is a frequently mined subject. It’s ripe for comedy. I should know, the similarly themed Rushmore is one of my favorite movies ever. But where that little love letter to a tortured teen was a sarcastically captivating tale with sympathetic characters, this is a universe populated by miscreants. Igby Goes Down and The Squid and the Whale also suffered from this problem. People with misanthropic tendencies might be humorous, but they’re not endearing.

The protagonist Oliver sees himself as an unparalleled genius, worshipped by his classmates. Although flippantly clever, he is in reality socially awkward . Precocious qualities can be kind of lovable in a child, But where we can often sympathize with this archetype, this boy has a hipper-than-thou attitude that gets on your nerves. He’s is such a contemptuous little brat, you’ll want to kick his a–. When bad things happen to him, you’re glad. That’s karma. I’m sure that’s not the reaction director and writer Richard Ayoade intended when adapting Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 novel of the same name. But his so-called charm sounds forced, like it was written by a an ageing humorist with a lifetime of regret.

The rest of the cast is unpleasant too, Oliver is in love with Jordana Bevan, a fickle shrew of a girl that never even radiates any sort of warmth or sex appeal. Why does he pursue her? She’s perpetually abrasive, a prickly cactus of a girl that symbolically barks “don’t touch me” simply by the way she casts a stare. Oliver actually taunts a fat kid at one point just to impress her. Yeah she’s a sweetheart. Further complicating Oliver’s wretched existence are his parents. His dad is a wimpy milquetoast that has less backbone than a jellyfish. He mopes around all day like a pathetic sad sack. His mother is no improvement. She does naughty things with a weird neighbor into martial arts that would give Madonna pause. These personalities are nothing more than 2 dimensional ciphers. They posses so much indifference for their own lives, we cease to care as well. All of this pain is supposed to be poignant. Although we should probably sympathize with Oliver’s plight, the opposite happens. He grows more and more repellent. Near the end I was hoping he would just put himself out of his own misery à la Harold and Maude.

When it isn’t depressing, the story is tiresome. The script values quirkiness above plot to a monotonous degree. Much of the action is reinforced with annoying voiceovers. Self-absorbed Oliver’s narration repeatedly hits us over the head with his observational bon mots. The effect is mind numbing and after awhile I struggled to stay awake. Whatever happened to the axiom “show don’t tell?“ We can plainly see that New Age guru Graham T. Purvis is a buffoon. It isn’t necessary for Oliver to inform us of the fact. There are positives, however. The soundtrack by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, is catchy in that twee manner that always seems to underscore Indies as of late. The cinematography is artfully done too. The carefully photographed drama gives the aesthetic a rich visual texture.

In the end, boredom, clichés and unlikable characters sink this submarine. You’ve seen this subject accomplished countless times before with more heart. The Graduate explored this territory way back in 1967. The fastidiously presented images significantly emphasize the utter emptiness of these people. Like admiring a beautifully folded tissue paper flower. It’s superficially artistic, but the facade is merely a deception. It doesn’t have the soul of a real living blossom. As a matter of fact, it’s actually worse in this case, because this flower is covered in anthrax.

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2 Responses to “Submarine”

  1. There is nothing worse in a movie than having every character be so depressing. I chuckled a bit, but dozed off here and there.

  2. Wow. I honestly didn’t expect any of the things you mention. Thanks for the review, Mark.

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