Submarine This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

June 28, 2011
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With this debut feature, ­director Richard Ayoade takes a genre which has, in recent years, become staid and predictable – the coming-of-age drama/comedy – and injects it with energy, maturity, and genuine pathos.

Adapted from the novel by Joe Dunthorne, the plot focuses on Oliver Tate, a self-absorbed, precocious, yet emotionally insecure teenager living in Wales during the 1980s. Suspicious of his mother's infidelity, Oliver takes it upon himself to repair his parents' relationship, while simultaneously pursuing his abrupt, enigmatic classmate, Jordana.

“Submarine” has a self-conscious artificiality (for example, freeze-frames are regularly used with the action locked in its center) and features an array of stylistic devices like novelistic inter-titles, fades to red, and Super-8 footage. At first, these techniques may seem distancing or intrusive, but they are ­actually quite effective at showing Oliver's world.

Oliver views his life in largely cinematic terms, dramatizing trivial events, reimagining his drab surroundings, and arranging his life into a familiar structure. In doing so, he makes his strange and unfamiliar world easier to comprehend.

Though “Submarine” gently satirizes Oliver's inexperience and solipsism (much of the humor is a result of the gulf between Oliver's romanticized view of himself and reality), the movie takes its hero seriously enough to keep the audience engaged in his emotional journey. This is largely thanks to extremely well-written supporting characters.

Unlike many coming-of-age films, no character in “Submarine” feels one-dimensional; though they are not all likeable, the audience can always empathize with them.

With short scenes connected by voice-over narration, “Submarine” moves at a rapid pace and pulsates with energy. The film also maintains a low-key humor which, while preventing it from sliding into self-seriousness, never undermines the drama.

At times this movie feels a bit too dependent on borrowed stylistic devices (the frequent use of Godard-esque jump cuts and Truffaut-style zooms, for example). It appears that, like many first-time directors, Ayoade has yet establish a unique visual style.

Despite this, “Submarine” is a surprisingly clever, engaging, and effective coming-of-age story that marks the arrival of a promising new filmmaker. You can find it on DVD.

This movie is rated R.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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