Thursday, 10 March 2011

submarine (w&d richard ayoade)

The opening shot is of a teenager in his Welsh home, plastered with carefully selected posters and an unsubtle image of a submarine. The teenager's voiceover kicks in. It all seems dangerously familiar. A British coming-of-age comedy drama. The student audience is laughing within seconds. I get that sinking feeling.

Then, within minutes, it goes. Don't judge a book by the cover, the saying goes, and in spite of the fact that from the cover it looks like this is going to be gauche, in spite of the fact it has a cameo by Considine as a wacky neighbour, in spite of the fear that this will be Gavin and Stacey, the movie - in spite of all this, the film confounds the sceptic and something beautiful emerges from this potential mush.

Flair is a rare beast amongst British directors, and flair with a hint of heart is even rarer. With Submarine, Ayoade, however, demonstrates that he's in possession of this rare combination. The film is beautifully shot. The nouvelle vague homage doesn't feel forced. And the teenage protagonists, odd couple Oliver and Jordana, not only convince, they actually have you rooting for them. Because, of course, of their flaws, their horribleness, their awkwardness, their teenage selfishness. At one point, the film captures a conversation between them where they're not speaking. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, think back perhaps to those endless late adolescent hiatuses of love, when neither party can find the words to move on, when all avenues seem blocked, when it seems like this moment will just never end. Well, it resonated with me anyway.

After the show, the DOP, Erik Wilson gave a long talk to the alumni of his ex-film school, where the screening took place. He explained that Ayoade handed him over 120 films to watch for his prep. (He admitted he hadn't watched all of them.) Somehow, Ayoade has pulled off the trick of transforming his influences into something original. Just as each and every one of us has to live our own personal coming-of-age narrative, Submarine succeeds in convincing that Oliver's coming-of-age story is like none that has ever come before. Which is no small feat. Largely because at heart it's so French, this felt like one of the most bracingly intelligent movies to have come out of the UK in a long while, all the more so because it dresses up its intelligence in a sheen of underwhelming teenage angst.

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