Editor’s note: This review was originally published on September 18, 2010 as a Toronto International Film Festival review.
Here we go folks, my favorite film of the festival - SUBMARINE.
Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) wants the simple things in life: love, his parents to be happy together, light arson, and the world to express their sorrow when he dies. Oh, and he’s only 15. His love interest is Jordana (Yasmin Paige), whom Oliver notices has eczema from staring at her so much, and his parents are Lloyd (Noah Taylor) and (Sally Hawkins), whose love begins to burn out when an old, mulleted flame comes back around. These are the most important people in Oliver’s life for the duration of SUBMARINE. Well, and the girl who falls into the pond, she’s pretty important, too.
Our love story is set in motion when Oliver, Jordan, and a small group of people chase around a girl in the woods. While tossing her bag around to one another close to a pond, Oliver accidentally knocks the bullied girl towards the pond, sending her well on her way into the water and him to regret. He types her an apology letter and gives it to her only friend, the lunch lady, but it never gets to the girl - Jordana gets ahold of it and swears to show the school if he doesn’t do a few things for her. In high school, a bad reputation is just as bad as death. Soon after, Oliver and Jordana are going steady, and they embark on a journey throughout the film doing things that people who are too cool for the world do. They sit and stare at each other in an isolated bathtub on the beach. They set fires in trashcans and watch the flames. It’s beautiful.
Oliver’s parents growing-stale-fast marriage frames up the second part of SUBMARINE. As Oliver finds love, the Tates are losing it. Papa Tate doesn’t talk much and drinks water from the same unwashed glass every day, and Mama Tate starts acting weird when her former flame Graham (Paddy Considine) moves in next door. Graham is a motivational speaker of sorts, and has a gnarly mullet and dresses like a ninja.
SUBMARINE was written and directed by Richard Ayoade, who’s best known as Moss onThe It Crowd. Ayoade knows how to use sarcastic, awkward, and twisted comedy, and he spreads them out perfectly throughout the film. At the beginning, Oliver ponders how people would react to his death. Cut to fake news specials, candlelight vigils, and interviews with fellow schoolmates talking about how cool he was. At another point in the film, Oliver discusses with the audience that his parents haven’t had sex in over eight months, and he knows this because he’s been keeping tabs on the way they dim the lights in their bedroom. Dark comedy like this is relatable, at least to me, and makes the movie much more personal. Ayoade takes us into the mind of Oliver, and shows us the truths and consequences of being a rebellious teenager.
Everyone in this film plays their characters well, but it’s Craig Roberts who brings out the awesome in our Oliver. Oliver is the guy you wish you would have known in high school, but were too proud to speak to at the time. He’s young and wants to live forever. He’s the misfit that shows us how to understand those who are different.
SUBMARINE is a story about growing up all while not wanting to get older. It’s what HAROLD & MAUDE would have been if they had met in high school.