Like many movies of its kind, "Submarine" commences with its troubled teenage protagonist addressing the audience through an internal monologue. After "Juno," "It's Kind of a Funny Story," and "Easy A," I wasn't entirely sure if we needed another movie to explore the insecurities and problems of young adults. My reservations toward "Submarine" quickly dwindled, however, as I found a darkly humorous, yet warm, comedy with a breakthrough performance from its young lead.
The teenage lead in question is Oliver Tate, a 15-year-old living in Swansea played by Craig Roberts. In the spirit of most boys his age, Oliver has two objectives: losing his virginity and rekindling the love between his parents.
Oliver sets his eyes on a peculiar girl named Jordana, played by Yasmin Paige. At first Jordana uses Oliver as a means to make her ex-boyfriend jealous, taking pictures of them kissing and leaving fake diary entries around the school. After Oliver suffers a beating from the ex-boyfriend, however, he and Jordana begin to evolve into an actual couple.
In addition to his own relationship, Oliver has also been studying the romance of his parents, played by Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor in a pair of very funny performances. Based on the position of the dimmer in their bedroom, Oliver suspects that his parents have not had relations in several months. The fact that his mother's former lover has moved in next door only contributes to Oliver's fear that his parents will split.
The highlight of "Submarine" is Roberts, who previously starred in the latest film adaptation of "Jane Eyre." Roberts sells every moment as the awkward and somewhat disturbed Oliver. In the hands of another actor, Oliver could easily be an insufferable and overly self-conscious teenager who you just want to punch. Yet, Roberts brings a certain anti-charm to the role, making Oliver surprisingly relatable. At times the character might talk more like a 30-year-old than a 15-year-old. But maybe I'm underestimating just how sophisticated teenagers can be.
Through his feature film debut, director Richard Ayoade supplies "Submarine" with plenty of indie charm. His screenplay adapted from Joe Dunthorne's novel of the same name is also quite humorous. As over-the-top as some of Oliver's monologues might seem, the dialog never feels forced or untrue. A hipster soundtrack from Alex Turner and James Ford uplifts all of this.
"Submarine" isn't quite as smart or witty as it thinks it is. For more Americanized audiences in particular, the film may seem too, for a lack of a better word, British. Nevertheless, the film has a good heart and does a more than sufficient job of capturing the awkward, confusing times of being 15. Especially for Ayoade's stylish direction and Robert's performance, this little sleeper is more than worth seeking out.