Richard Ayoade’s (you may know him better as Moss from The IT Crowd) directorial debut Submarine is a minor marvel: a postmodern comedy liberally peppered with self-awareness, irony and references to other films that still manages to be charming, funny and unexpectedly touching in places. I’m getting increasingly impatient with stuff that’s self-consciously quirky and offbeat (for example, I’ve stopped watching the films of Wes Anderson, to which Submarine seems particularly stylistically indebted), but sometimes things just click – Gregory’s Girl is probably my yardstick for unconventional teen romances, and it’s to Ayoade’s credit that his film doesn’t look at all shabby by comparison.
It’s a small-scale story told from the point of view of Oliver, a bookish and solitary 15 year old living in a run-down but still reasonably scenic Welsh town, with one of the two main plot threads being his mission to secure a girlfriend and lose his outsider status and the other being his concern over the reappearance of his mother’s former lover. Both of these strands may sound a bit formulaic, but they play out in ways that are surprising, frequently laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally slightly unsettling. A lot of the stock characters and scenarios you’d expect are present and correct (the school bully, the wry teacher, the repressed mother and insecure father) but all come up feeling fresh due to thoughtful scripting and excellent performances that keep the situations credible, despite the overabundance of freeze-frames, voiceover and ostentatious fade-outs to red or blue. Craig Roberts is an ideal bit of casting for Oliver: most of the time he’s utterly convincing as the nerdy and naively calculating loner, but he handles some more challenging material just as well, such as when Oliver acts badly out of self-absorption or when he tries to restore the balance of his parents’ marriage. Yasmin Paige is also excellent as Oliver’s love interest Jordana, a wilful and bluntly mocking girl whose motivation is initially impossible to fathom. Also worth mentioning is Paddy Considine’s ludicrous but constantly hilarious new age psychic, whose ridiculously pompous seminars and videos are worth going to see the film for alone.
Submarine is probably destined for cult status, on the same shelf as Shaun Of The Dead and In Bruges in terms of quotable dialogue and memorable set-pieces. I wouldn’t be too upset to see it there.