DVD Review - Submarine
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, the movie focuses on Oliver Tate, a teenage boy in the country of Wales, set possibly in the 1960s. The story follows a year in Oliver's life as he falls in love with a schoolmate named Jordana Bevan and also while he deals with his parents' possible divorce.
Ayoade directs the first third and the entire film actually with an eye of whimsy and a sentience that has become a common trait in films this past decade. The opening shot ends with Oliver looking into the camera, as if he's aware that he's in a movie. It makes sense because Oliver wants his life to be a movie, one that he directs. Oliver even directs his own funeral. He imagines his love for Jordana playing out in a montage shot on 8 mm film. It's all very fast and funny, but there are some things about it that are problematic.
The movie depicts bullying as acceptable behavior. Not only that, it's depicted as the way to Jordana's heart. There was also an undercurrent of homophobia throughout the movie. For example, Oliver's mom, played by Sally Hawkins, assumes Oliver might be gay and is relieved, and in fact happy, when he's not. Yet, this is only a minor quibble.
What hurt the film was writing and editing choices that took away from the cinematic power that the main character himself strives to achieve. Oliver's first kiss with Jordana happens underneath train tracks and Jordana documents it using a Polaroid camera. Ayoade's direction isn't bad. He utilizes the sound of a passing train and interesting camera angles to thrust us into the moment, but the editing of it saps all the impact. Instead of the lips, we get a closeup of Oliver's arm and hand. We don't get to see in the kiss, just its essence, which made me wonder what the point was of taking the Polaroids.
There were also some questionable writing choices. The constant narration was problematic. Typically, I don't mind narration, but, when it starts to detract or take away from the cinematic power or scope that the film could achieve visually or with basic acting, then it's a flaw. Essentially, there was too much narration. It never knew when to be dialed down.
One example goes back to Oliver's first kiss with Jordana under the train tracks. There's narration here that describes the kiss in vivid detail. Narrated detail like this would be apt and even exemplary for a novel, as I'm sure it was in Dunthorne's book, but, in the movie version, I would rather see the kiss, not merely narrated detail about it.
Another example is a scene where Oliver's narration says there's no way to know what people are feeling or thinking. Considering how clever Oliver is or how clever he thinks he is, it's odd that he doesn't realize that there is a way to know what people are feeling or thinking. It's called talking to them, which despite his neurotic narration he doesn't do. This is perhaps a character trait for Oliver, but, as we watch Oliver's parents separate, we get little to no dialogue between the two.
This movie very much lives inside Oliver's head. This is in itself not a criticism. Some great movies have lived inside the head of their protagonists, but I merely grew tired of the incessant narration. When Oliver tries to talk to Jordana about his parents' separation and Jordana dismisses it because she reveals her mom has cancer, his narration in that moment indicates that her mom's cancer and pending death trumps in importance his parents' divorce.
The problem is that we don't need the narration to tell us that. Craig Roberts who plays Oliver is a competent enough actor that we get all we need to know by the look on his face. His reaction in that moment tells what the narration does in the very next moment, making it overly redundant.
Everything with this film is not off and wrong. There are a lot of fascinating flourishes that Ayoade adds. There is also a supremely well acted scene between Oliver and his father where they're having dinner and that was simply brilliant. The first time that Oliver invites Jordana over to his house was also quite funny. Aside from a few missteps, I liked this movie.
Three Stars out of Five.
Not Rated But Recommended 14 and Up.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.