Sunday, 4 September 2011


Madman Films
Now Showing

The coming-of-age/rites-of-passage story is almost as old as storytelling itself. Subsequently, there's not a lot that hasn't been covered thematically in either literature or film, and possibly nothing approaching the excellence of J.D. Salinger's 1951* novel, The Catcher In The Rye.

But what Submarine - the directorial debut of actor Richard Ayoade (he plays Moss on TV's The IT Crowd), which he adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne - has in its favour is a fresh and funny voice: that of 15-year-old Oliver Tate. The film's mid-1980s, Welsh setting isn't particularly cliche, either.

Oliver (Craig Roberts) gives a copy of Salinger's book (along with some other approved reading) to his new girlfriend, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), so they'll have some shared interests other than their penchant for light arson. Not that two-way communication will be a mainstay of this high school romance, for much like Rye's protagonist, Holden Caulfield - and adolescents generally - Oliver, for all his articulate voice over narration, isn't so much self possessed as self obsessed.

Jordana might be his first girlfriend but Oliver's more preoccupied with what's happening in his world (the marriage of his parents, Jill and Lloyd, may be on the verge of collapse) than hers (her mother has a life threatening brain tumour).

Things have been cooling between Jill (Sally Hawkins) and Lloyd (Noah Taylor) Tate for some time (Oliver keeps a record on their lovemaking by checking the setting on their bedroom light dimmer switch) but the arrival next door of an old flame of Oliver's mum sets off all kinds of alarms for our narrator.

No matter that Graham T. Purvis (Paddy Considine) is a long-haired, leather pants wearing quasi spiritual guru and as sexy as, well, that description implies. Then again, compared to Oliver's bordering-on-depression and prone-to-working-from-home-in-pyjamas marine biologist dad, Graham must seem like a Casanova - or a wolf - to an insecure teenager whose home, and thus world, is under threat.

Considine's Purvis may be borderline caricature but it doesn't necessarily jar with the rest of Submarine's comic tone, which is set from the beginning by the very distinct voice of Oliver Tait. And Craig Roberts gives a terrific performance in his first major film role. Jasmin Paige is excellent, too, as the 'treat 'em mean keep 'em keen' Jordana, while Hawkins and Taylor are pitch perfect as Oliver's parents.

It's an impressive debut by Ayoade, who has admitted to being influenced by the works of French directors Truffaut and Rohmer, and using natural light where possible (thanks to cinematographer Erik Wilson), to give Submarine its distinctive feel, look and its sense of 'timelessness': while set in the mid 1980s (Oliver's parents go on a double date with Graham and his girlfriend to see Crocodile Dundee), the story could just as easily be taking place in the 1960s.

And the only songs in the film are originals written and performed by the Arctic Monkeys' Alex Turner; Ayoade being a long time collaborator with the band, shooting some of their video clips and the concert film, Arctic Monkeys at the Apollo.

The Catcher In The Rye it may not be but in the absence of a film version of Salinger's novel (and long may that be the case), Submarine is a perfectly engaging tale of adolescence, fresh and funny. It also announces the arrival in filmmaking of a similarly styled voice in Richard Ayoade.

*Salinger first published The Catcher In The Rye in serial form in 1945-6 (for all the pedantics out there!).

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