Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Movies You May Have Missed - Submarine (2010)

Submarine is one of those films I meant to see when it came out, but I have a hard time getting to the movie theater. Hopefully I'll be more big-screen inclined for 2012, but in the meantime, here's a coming-of-age flick available on DVD that works out fine on the home viewing system.

Shot in watery Wales by director Richard Ayoade (actor/writer known for his TV comedy, "The IT Crowd" in England) and based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine is a nicely balanced combination of visual storytelling and deadpan teen angst that arty weirdos and their sympathetic counterparts will find worthwhile. At least, that's my best guess. If you see it and feel I've steered you wrong, you'll still be filmically enriched--I guarantee it.

Oliver, attempting to decipher the mysteries of human behavior
Oliver Tate (played by Craig Roberts, with the pie-eyed yet weaselly sincerity of an actual teenager) is at the age when hyper-driven hormones and social idiocy lead to emotional desperation—and comedy! He's a dreamy loner bookworm type with fantasies of importance way out of proportion to his humble social-standing at his school. The era is implied, somewhere in the late 80s/early 90s when hands-off parenting and high-divorce-rate fallout left a kind of Lord of the Flies aftertaste in the memory banks of that generation. Ayoade is careful not to be too specific with the date, which is kind of an annoying indie-film staple. Just pick a date and go with it, directors—it will be OK. You don't have to feature ridiculous clothes and hairstyles if you don't want to. We'll get it.

Oliver is fixated on his classmate Jordanna Bevan (Yasmin Paige), she of the dark pageboy hair framing naughty brown eyes. Wearing a brilliant red overcoat and lighting matches in the woods, one by one, who wouldn't find her enchanting? Unfortunately, she's a bit of a bully, which leads to their early meet-cute, involving a victim, a large mud puddle, and photographic sexual revenge. It's a heady romance in the making.

Oliver's parents, Lloyd and Jill, are played by the subtly charismatic Noah Taylor (who has a solid background in teen drama) and an unrecognizable Sally Hawkins, who was so bubbly and alive in Mike Leigh's Happy-Go-Lucky. Here, she's one drab beige-clad mushroom-haired mom, simmering with domestic dissatisfaction. Lloyd, a hirsute marine biologist, prone to fits of melancholia after getting canned from his educational-film gig, has not been successful in the marital bed for seven months. Oliver knows this because the dimmer light-switch in his parents' bedroom has not been adjusted in all that time. It's these kinds of details that keep the film from flying off into too-airy territory (see Wes Anderson). A snooping only-child like Oliver would make note of such a thing.

Ayoade's camera work is ace throughout. Oliver and Jordanna's romantic starting point is shot on the fly, hand-held with existing light, racing about abandoned amusement parks and train yards, signifying youthful excitement but also emotional detachment. Jordanna's penciled directive, outlining their relationship, is sent floating down a rushing gray river, noting that "emotions" are not allowed, since that would be "too gay." Her pyromania and smirking charms are cinematic but also lead you to believe there is trouble brewing beneath her outwardly sophisticated pose. This all contrasts excruciatingly with the static wide-shots of Oliver's would-be seduction scene in his hilltop house while his parents are on their weekly night out. He's worked hard to provide the adequate amount of candle light and rose petals on the bed—it's pretty gnarly.

On the parallel adult-drama plane, Oliver's parents are caught in a triangle of grotesque proportions when Jill's ex-boyfriend and new-age aura-reader, Graham (Paddy Considine), moves in next door. Graham's rainbow-shellacked, shag-carpeted van says so much about his character. But Considine doesn't rest on that alone, giving Graham layers of icky hair-gelled, faux-karate-kicking, leather-pantsed anti-charm for Jill to fixate on. Lloyd sits by, sipping lemon water and staring balefully, beautifully, into the middle distance, as only Noah Taylor can so successfully do. How Oliver deals with this marital discord while trying to become "the world's best boyfriend" (a noble but near-impossible task for a 15-year-old) is the crux of it all.

This is a good one, so give it a go.

Who would like this film: 
-Film geeks trying to avoid slow-paced, dialogue-heavy films about human emotions that actually avoid delving too deeply into human emotions.
-Self-proclaimed weirdos and misfits and the people who love them.
-Camera people.
-Proponents of intelligence and subtle comedy.
-Noah Taylor fans. Sally Hawkins fans as well.
-Sensitive teens and their adult counterparts.
-Harold and Maude people.

Who wouldn't like this film:
-Probably my brother, although sometimes he surprises me.
-That guy from high school who thought he was so great but who was in reality, a dipshit.
-Members of the American Tea Party.

No comments: