Every now and then, we come across a film that manages to be so delightfully sentimental, we can’t help but fall in love with its adorableness. Perhaps the film’s adorableness is rooted in its nostalgic look at a world the audience has either forgotten about or never actually had. In the case of Richard Ayoade’s 2010 coming-of-age film ‘Submarine,’ the nostalgia and sentimentality are palpable.
‘Submarine’ follows precocious 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) as he faces the trials of adolescence in Swansea, Wales in the 1960s. Over the course of its 97-minute runtime, the film tackles themes like the degradation of family, lost love and societal isolation. Although its story may seem a little trite, the setting and style Ayoade uses to craft his film breathes freshness into the movie.
The film has all the quirkiness of a Wes Anderson movie and at times seems like a grittier, more rebellious version of ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ But ‘Submarine’ comes off more believable than Anderson’s 2012 film. Actors Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige (who plays Oliver’s love interest, Jordana Bevan) portray their characters with this heightened level of candidness that captures all the angst and awkwardness of adolescence. The peculiar chemistry between the two leads, though a little stilted, works to highlight the tension between their characters. As Yasmin Paige’s cynical and dispassionate Jordana Bevan reluctantly enters a relationship with the sensible and poetic Oliver, she continually exhibits emotional distance from him. For the first half of the movie, Oliver continually works to break down Jordana’s apparent apathy towards him, only to face the emotional strifes following his parents’ deteriorating marriage.
The debut film of English director Richard Ayoade (a charmingly awkward comedian with a dry wit), the film has this cleverness and poetry that charms the audience into loving Oliver’s little affectations. Ayoade also uses minute elements of childhood to play with our feelings of nostalgia. Throughout the film, characters play with kaleidoscopes, makeshift fireworks, polaroid cameras and record players — all little toys that reflect their sense of youthful innocence and work to create a vibrant atmosphere of ethereal wonder.
To further punctuate the film’s vibrant atmosphere, Ayoade called upon iconic indie rocker Alex Turner, lead singer of Arctic Monkeys, to write the film’s nostalgic soundtrack. Turner’s catchy tunes and wistful lyrics perfectly complement the film’s understated visual splendor. When his song, ‘Stuck in the Puzzle,’ plays in the opening scene, the audience immediately feels this sense of melancholy peace. By ‘Piledriver Waltz’ during Oliver and Jordana’s romantic montage, the audience feels some temporary joviality.
Despite the film’s wonderful atmosphere, Ayoade punctuates Oliver’s emotional strifes with this sobering realism that, in the context of the film, hits the audience like a punch to the face. As Oliver’s life spins out of control, one cannot help but empathize for his character. His adolescent trials are ones with which most audience members can relate. His sense of helplessness in an otherwise apathetic world manages to break our hearts as it slowly breaks his.
Although the film can at times feel like a roller coaster of teenage emotions, the nostalgic atmosphere of the entire film somehow pervades through all the emotional strifes and existential crises, consoling viewers. Oliver’s narration throughout the film further comforts the audience and gives insight into his experiences. In his articulate Welsh accent, the precocious, somewhat pretentious teenager examines topics like morality, alienation and the human experience.
Richard Ayoade’s coming-of-age film “Submarine” has a rare combination of wistfulness, nostalgia and wit that makes it a sentimental piece for people of all ages. The film’s tender outlook on adolescent life may inspire one to reminisce of childhood with Alex Turner’s music playing in the background.