It’s been said that if you screw up once, it’s a mistake, but if you do it three times it’s a style.
Don’t get me wrong, Submarine is a good film with a strong voice, but that’s not to say it’s not without pros and cons. With a unique tone, interesting characters, and distinctive editing, director Richard Ayoade obviously had a strong vision for this film from the beginning. The only problem was with the main character, Oliver Tate, who was written as such an offbeat character that there were times at which he was hard to relate to.
Submarine is a film full of feature film newcomers. Ayoade makes his narrative feature debut as writer/director, a departure from his career as a TV actor and director. Both of the young actors, as well, come fresh to the big screen. Craig Roberts, playing Oliver Tate, takes on his first feature lead in this film (he has since starred in Jane Eyre), and Yasmin Paige, coming only from small parts in obscure films, gives a surprisingly beautiful performance as his love interest, Jordana Bevan.
The strongest aspect of this film was how these three people did seem to work together and feed off each other to deliver honest performances. I was especially impressed with the overall performance from Paige, who was so intriguing and believable in her character that even I could see wanting to date her when I was that age. The problem, however, was that sometimes the writing seemed to be a little too honest, to the point that the Oliver Tate became unlikable and un-relatable at some points.
In the special features, Ayoade alludes to his inspirations from films like The Graduate that also include offbeat protagonists that don’t always make the smartest decisions in their lives. The difference between that and this film, however, is that in those cinema classics, you could always relate to those character’s choices, understanding why they made them, while I would never agree with some of the choices Oliver Tate made in this story. I mean, I feel for the kid and his struggle to balance his new girlfriend with his parent’s struggling marriage, but he made certain choices in the plot that I personally would never forgive him for, so how can I do so as an audience member?
On a technical note, the editing was actually one of the most noteworthy aspects of the film. I can see why some of the cuts could be a little jolting for your more casual movie watcher, but once you got use to the abruptness of the style, you could see how it was successful in moving the story forward in a unique and dynamic manner. I did notice how the a lot of the hyper-stylized cutting seemed to taper off after the first act, only to pick up again in the last few minutes, but that could have just been me getting more wrapped up in the story.
As previously mentioned, even if some of the cuts and transitions were a little unconventional, you have to admire the distinctive style they were able to achieve.
One other item of interest was the music by Alex Turner, who is the Arctic Monkey’s frontman, composing his first solo endeavor outside the band. It’s not surprising that he was chosen for this film, as Ayoade previously directed a concert film for the band. To be honest, I didn’t particularly notice anything noteworthy with the soundtrack while watching the film, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the very least, it’s an interesting bit of trivia.
As for the disk itself, don’t hold your breath when exploring the special features. There’s really nothing of interest in the deleted scenes, and the behind-the-scenes featurette (at only ten minutes), which I actually was looking forward to seeing some interesting footage from the set and insight into character motivations, was disappointedly amateur. The piece was editing together in such as way that they would splice clips together of different people saying the same point, because the editor felt like they went together, when really it just came across as repetitive. It took all I had not to turn it off in the first 30 seconds.
Ultimately, while this film could be considered a little pretentious, I did find it to be an honest coming-of-age story. What I really look for in a filmmaker is the ability to tell a compelling story with creativity and style, which certainly was accomplished in this film.