To the Ritzy on Saturday night to see Submarine with my wife and daughter, with (I must admit it) some reluctance, as Source Code was on in the next screen and that looked just the ticket for a hot weekend night with beer in the head and noodles in the belly. I’ll get to see Source Code soon, I trust – but I’m bloody delighted I got to see Submarine.
If you’ve been hiding under a rock, you won’t know this is the first film directed by Richard Ayoade, who’s become known as Moss from The I.T. Crowd but who for me will forever be Garth Marenghi’s publicist and co-star Dean Lerner (when Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace came out, I remember Ayoade doing a radio interview in character as Lerner and it is still about the funniest bit of live radio I’ve ever heard).
Ayoade also wrote the script, adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel about a teenage boy growing up in South Wales (in the film, the date isn’t specified, but from little clues around technology the wife and I guessed it’s around 1980/81, which makes the hero the exact same age as me). The film also has added Alex Turner, who provided a half-dozen strummed little guitar-and-voice songs which punctuate the story without ever seeming to be about very much at all (in a good way).
Harder to put down in words is the quality of the film, by which I mean not how good it is (and it’s very good indeed) but its flavour, the way it looks at the world. It’s got a skewed Super 8 kind of light to it, and there’s lot of interesting faces and puzzled expressions, as if everyone’s woken up on a strange film set and is wondering how on earth it happened. The central character, Oliver Tate, is played by Craig Roberts with the most bemused face of all, as if he’s constantly asking us to make some sense of a cracked world full of fires in skips and teenagers sitting in baths, contemplating eternity on the Gower Peninsula. His parents are played by Noah Taylor, whose wonky face and slight Aussie accent are in a strange way descriptive of the whole film, and a near-unrecognisable Sally Hawkins, who swaps her “isn’t life BRILLIANT!” grin from Happy-Go-Lucky for a jittery, tragically repressed woman who seems scared of everything.
It’s a lovely, brave thing, this film, with a whimsy to it that is very British indeed. It’s pretty tempting to draw analogies with Gregory’s Girl, which had a similar kind of fractured comedy to it (set in the same era, too). And there, look, I’ve succumbed to the temptation. But the world needs as many Bill Forsyths as it can get, and if Richard Ayoade wants to be one of them, hip hip hooray. Submarine was funded by the UK Film Council. So we won’t be seeing many more like it, presumably. I found myself asking why the BBC doesn’t make stuff like this: poetic, funny, sad, beautiful, memorable. Ayoade is a serious player, says this film. Looking forward to what he does next.