Sardonic, sporadically amusing but ultimately inconsequential, the British film Submarine is a familiar coming-of-age story about a neurotic Welsh adolescent with a haircut like the Who, Harry Potter bangs and bags under his eyes. In a prologue, he imagines himself dead, with candlelight vigils and weeping student testimonials, but as the story begins, it becomes instantly obvious that reality will take a quite different turn. Jumpy and desperate to eschew restless boredom, the whole thing looks like a series of rock videos.
Owing too much for its own good to Rushmore, the growing pains created by comedy writer-director Richard Ayoade are nothing more than a fitful homage to far superior and vastly more imaginative films about dysfunctional kids like Igby Goes Down (2002) and Running With Scissors (2006). I like would-be Holden Caulfields, but there’s not much to fight off insomnia about 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts). Pasty, paranoid and hated by the students in his school, he monitors his parents’ sex lives according to where the dimmer switch is set in their bedroom. By his calculations, they’ve been abstinent for seven months. Instead of Susan Sarandon and Bill Pullman in Igby Goes Down, or Annette Bening and Alec Baldwin in Running With Scissors, the Parents You Love to Hate in this movie are quirky Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor, who played Adolf Hitler in Max. Mother is a flawed zombie who is having a secret affair with an old boyfriend, a New Age psychic with grotesque Donald Trump hair, played with gruesome hilarity by the terrific actor Paddy Considine. Father is a failed marine biologist who ruins every Christmas by telling everyone what their presents are as they’re unwrapping them. When Oliver isn’t trying to save their marriage, he’s trying to get laid by his classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a Goth pyromaniac. Since her mother has cancer, Oliver decides to poison her dog as “grief practice.” These are the jokes, and they make no more sense than the title. There is no submarine in Submarine.
The movie knocks itself unconscious trying to be offbeat, but instead of cinematic heart, the director self-indulges in cinematic art, drowning the whole thing in freeze frames, slow-motion and color-coding, owing everything he knows to the worst of Jean-Luc Godard and Wes Anderson. What else can you expect from a man who has made a career directing videos for Arctic Monkeys and Vampire Weekend?
Running time 97 minutes
Written and directed by Richard Ayoade
Starring Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine
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