The Films of 2011 – #2 Submarine
In 2011, a fondly regarded and greatly admired British television comedian made his debut feature film, wowing critics and audiences alike and instantly making his name as a talented chap who clearly has a very bright directing future ahead of him. Yes indeed, Joe Cornish’s Attack The Block is a brilliant & kinetic piece of fun, escapist cinema: indeed one of the best films of the year. Personally, I think AtB is just outside my Top Ten though, still love ya Cornballs.
You may have noticed my “hilarious” misdirection at the top there, but one could bestow all of those plaudits upon Richard Ayoade. Most TV audiences will know him as the hapless geek Moss in the IT Crowd; some may remember him as Dean Learner in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but it may come as some surprise that he has quietly been forging a parallel career as a director: after music videos for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Arctic Monkeys, Submarine is his first foray onto the silver screen.
Based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine is the tale of awkward Welsh teenager Oliver (Craig Roberts – previously seen as an awkward Vampire teenager in Being Human) and his attempts to avail himself of his virginity, whilst simultaneously disrupting his mother’s extra-marital affair. Told in snippets of Oliver’s internal monologue and diary entries, this Unreliable Narrator’s story is one that feels autobiographical, is frequently hilarious, and openly mocks its own verbose pomposity. Oliver is convinced that he is an utter genius, that the other kids all admire his brilliance, and that one day his exploits are of such magnificent importance there will be a film made of them. Clearly he is wrong on the first 2 counts.
Ayoade’s film takes great pleasure in toying with the storytelling format and twanging the edges of the fourth wall. As Community’s Abed might say, it’s all very Meta. One particular gag about a tracking shot and how Oliver imagines the film to play is particularly pointed & hilarious. The ingenuity on screen is exciting and without par this year, almost making the film at times feel like a sequence of very clever music videos that just happen to be stitched together by a narrative. A flicker-book sequence of polaroid photos might be one scene, a bullet-timey frozen moment in time the next.
Admittedly I would have been a few years younger than Oliver was in the 1986 setting, but there are numerous heartwarming (and sometimes groan inducing) moments of nostalgia for a childhood in 1980’s Britain – nothing feels forced or crass like a Peter Kay routine, just very subtle and pleasingly familiar. Oliver’s self-referential attitudes, his delusions of grandeur, his teenaged gawkiness, his enthusiastic and misplaced affections : all resonated extremely strongly with my own experiences, and I could not help but identify hugely with him, imagining myself in his shoes (parental indiscretions aside, I must point out). It was empathy for Oliver that had me falling madly in love with this film upon first watching, and happily watching a subsequent three times in the next week.
I should also mention that there’s a wealth of talent from the adults too – Brit favourites Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine both having fun with their roles, Noah Taylor delivering a huggably pathetic cuckold of a father. Arctic Monkey Alex Turner delivers a jaunty soundtrack that never feels out of place.
So yes, effectively feeling like a hand-crafted love letter to my own adolescence, Submarine is a hugely enjoyable, unpretentious & fun film. I can only wait for news of Ayoade’s next film, and meanwhile applaud the fact that he went on to direct one of the most touching & tender episodes of TV’s current best comedy: Community. Have a watch of the trailer and get your hands on the film as quickly as you can:
Tomorrow I shall unveil the Clockwork Shorts Film of the Year 2011. Bet you can’t wait, eh?
The Clockwork Shorts 2011 retrospective can be browsed for your pleasure right HERE