A typical scene from Submarine: teenage protagonist Oliver (Craig Roberts) leans angstily against the school gates; voiceover narration states “In the biopic of my life I imagine a sweeping crane shot now, but if things don’t get better there’ll only be enough budget for a zoom out”; cue zoom out. Or: Oliver wins the affections of classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige); narration states “We had such a good two weeks together that it’s already stored in my Super 8 memory”; cue Super 8 sequence of the pair frolicking in fairgrounds, lying in fields together, etc. etc.
If you think these moments sound quite clever, cute and cine-literate you’d be right – but Submarine’s problem is that it is obsessed with them. The fast-cutting corridor sequence, for instance, which looked so impressive in the trailer (about 40 seconds in) actually has less impact in the film itself because it’s surrounded by so much similar guff. If a narrative is so determined to constantly undercut itself, how is the audience supposed to react? How can it ever engage with the characters?
It’s a shame because there are some great ingredients here. Noah Taylor is fantastically deadpan as the beige-clad marine biologist father, and Oliver himself is a very well-observed narcissistic youth. He reads a dictionary in his spare time; I knew someone at school who did the same thing, and it resulted in the same self-conscious uses of learned words that is evident in Oliver’s idiolect: “No wonder my parents’ cinema outing ended in such a schism”.
But the film hasn’t taken itself seriously enough to achieve any real pathos. Only in the last half an hour do things finally settle – and the final beach scene, in which we watch the two youngsters wordlessly rekindle their friendship via the gentle lapping of waves, is probably the best of the lot. Richard Ayoade is clearly a talented director; perhaps now everything’s out of his system he’ll go on to make more substantial films than this.