If you’ve seen the trailer or poster for the Brit flick Submarine, you’re probably thought “Wow, they discovered a rejuvenation serum and wasted it on Bud Cort.”
Well, okay, that made me chuckle, but unless you remember Hal Ashby’s cult classic Harold and Maude—ok, look, I’m not gonna apologize. You know what kind of blog this is. Deal with it.
Anyway, eerie resemblances notwithstanding, Submarine is the story of a nebbishy, pale kid named Oliver who manages to score a girl he’s been longing for and figures he’s got something of a chance with because she’s also kind of pale and nebbishy.
Oliver’s an oddball who monitors his parents’ sexual activity (by checking the dimmer switch, you pervs) and suffers considerable anxiety that they’ll split, which is only compounded when a smarmy aura-reading motivational speaker moves in next door and puts the moves on mom.
So, we watch as Oliver manages his first adult relationship with Jordana (who is complex and has worse problems than his) and struggle to keep his parents together. This is occasionally funny, and warmer than the rather sterile trailer suggests, but it’s pretty heavy overall. It’s a little over an hour-and-a-half, but just slightly too long, with the denouement dragging out a hair.
The acting is superb, of course. It’s British, after all. Craig Roberts (late of Jane Eyre) and Jasmin Page are more than credible as the—well, they don’t drive, and they could convincingly be middle schoolers, but I think they’re meant to be 15 or so. (In real life, they were both 19.) Noah Taylor (who played Mr. Bucket in the Burton Wonka) and the very English-y cute Sally Hawkins (also of Jane Eyre and Never Let Me Go) are odd without being ostentatious. Paddy Considine is great as the smarmy motivational speaker.
This movie is conspicuous in its a-temporality. It never says what the year is. While this is a deliberate choice, it sort of draws attention to itself: There are no cell phones, computers, CDs, and the music is original so that you can’t pin it to any specific time (other than, well, 2010, because that’s the year the movie was made); but there are video tapes, and Considine has a distinctly late ‘70s/early ’80s vibe, with his disco van and track suit. Noah Taylor, who slumps through the movie with a wild mop and beard, which would fit that period.
Meanwhile, Crocodile Dundee is in the theaters (1986/1987) and the book the movie is based on is set in 1997/1998, I think.
So. The director (Richard Ayoade, best known here for, I guess, “The Mighty Boosh” series on Adult Swim?) didn’t want a time and ends up making the whole thing feel old.
The Boy and I liked it, though neither of us were overwhelmed. This is in that broad “slice of life” category which suffers a bit from being, maybe, too real. High drama is eschewed for the prosaic, the banal, the ever day. Oliver is, by turns, amusing, jerky, shallow, noble (in spirit), cowardly, possessive. Sympathetic, often, but not always likable.
I’m still a sucker for “flawed character overcomes all to make heroic stand”-type movies, but I can’t fault this movie for not being that, since it never presents itself that way. Oliver is just a very human character, with features and flaws like any other. There is, at least, some dramatic arc if no particularly heroic one.
Which is, like, cool, man. If that sort of thing is your bag. If not, well, it’s also relatively short.