An awkward, hyper-verbal teen faces a dull, uncomprehending world enlivened only by one seemingly out of reach girl. Will he betray himself in his effort to win her heart? Will he lose her and get her back having learned his lesson? Will you care? In this instance – ‘Submarine’ – the answer may be more ‘yes’ than ‘no’. Or ‘maybe’.
Much has been made of the film’s Nouvelle Vague panache (pastiche). The brisk, unreliable voice-over, the jump cuts, the energy. All good (apart from the appropriation of Godard’s design aesthetic which verges on the superficial – this is film is Truffaut, not Godard. It has an ironic, alkaline heart. Subversive, or political, it ain’t.)
But thankfully the success of Richard Ayoade’s debut film is not just a matter of style. A poignant, nuanced study of depression lurks behind the perennial coming-of-age plot, nicely camouflaged by the droll observations and all that romantic super 8 fluff.
Some (script editors) might argue the boy’s sudden concern over his mother’s possible infidelity with their sleazy neighbour pulls the story in the wrong direction, at the wrong time, but that would be missing the point. His possessive attitude to the mother leads to a crisis of identification with his father – at one point, he authors a letter in his name – but this identification also leads to a (slightly) deeper awareness of his father’s – and possibly his own – depressive tendencies. Yes, it’s Oedipal, but this is the engine of the story, the romance merely its output.
‘Submarine‘ was released on DVD in the UK a few weeks ago (July 29th).