Review; Submarine by Richard Ayoade

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Posted 09 Dec 2010 in Reviews

Richard Ayoade’s debut feature, Submarine, doesn’t get a general release ’til March 18th, but it premiered in the UK at Brighton’s Cinecity film festival last week, and you will doubtless hear much of it in the months leading up to its launch. This is partly, unavoidably, due to the high profile of its writer and director – the likeable Ayoade’s turns in The IT Crowd and The Mighty Boosh might not have turned him into a household name, but he is well known and highly thought of. His work behind the camera is less trumpeted, but he’s shot a number of fine music videos and his career highlight, in fact, might be his work as director of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

Submarine will surely be a big success. Everything is surely in place for it to be a hit. It has a star director, a series of great performances, is genuinely funny and is, technically, light years ahead of most UK attempts to crack the box-office. It’s wonderfully shot and crisply edited, well-cast and tightly scripted. And the theme is likely to resonate too; a young, bright, self-aware – but awkward, emotionally clumsy – teenage boy comes of age in a faintly timeless Welsh town. As a first feature, it’s sure-footed and well-judged.

What will also happen, however, is the reviews will tilt under the weight of references and comparisons. For better or for worse, deliberately or by accident, Ayoade has made a film which fits neatly into the genre of comedy mastered in recent years by a succession of independent film auteurs in movies like Rushmore, Juno, Napoloeon Dynamite and Son of Rambow. This is both a strength – they’re all fine films – and a weakness – like them, Submarine is literate, sardonic, nostalgic and – at times – a bit self-indulgent.

The Wes Anderson comparisons will flow freely. At times, Ayoade’s style, which is heavy on cinematic grammar, does indeed recall Anderson, although happily it’s Rushmore that Submarine reminds me of, not Anderson’s later, weaker work, and one could very easily argue that Ayoade is thematically and stylistically harking back further, to Mike Nichols’ The Graduate and Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude. It wasn’t Anderson, after all, who first hit on the idea of quirky, stylised comedy with folk-music soundtracks (Alex Turner, incidentally, drops the ball with his clumsy sounding musical accompaniement.)

Nevertheless, there are times when you wonder why, when Ayoade watched the rushes back, he didn’t think to himself, “if I took out all the bits that are going to really remind people of Wes Anderson, I’d still have a pretty great film”. He left them in, no doubt, because there is a confluence of style and theme which is a happy and genuine co-incidence. But the whimsy is cosmetic – in other words it spices up the visuals but adds nothing to the story – and I for one have had enough of this celluloid twee-ness. It bit into my enjoyment of an otherwise super film.

But let’s give it some deserved praise. First, the cinematography is gorgeous. Ayoade repeatedly returns to the huge expanses of sky around Cardiff, and the lingering landscapes are intensely memorable. He’s also found a couple of great leads – the youngsters, Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts perform with confidence and style, while the adult cast perform with such evident pleasure that one almost feels short-changed that they only have supporting roles. It’s hard to think of a couple of better performances in a comedy film than Noah Taylor’s Lloyd Tate and Sally Hawkin’s wonderful portrayal of his wife, Jill. Meanwhile, overacting gleefully, Paddy Considine has tremendous fun, as he always seems to.

And most importantly, despite the irritating and sometimes arch narration, Ayoade makes a serious attempt to inject emotion into proceedings, something that Wes Anderson never seems to bother with. It’s only sporadically successful (there’s still a layer of irony that impedes empathy) but the attempt alone sets the film apart from many of the titles it will be compared to. This that bodes most well for its youthful director. There’s absolutely enough to suggest, here, that Ayoade could go on to be a really super film-maker. It does sometimes become necessary, however, to carve out one’s own approach, and just now you feel there’s too many nods at other movies and not quite enough pushing ahead alone.

After the premiere, Noah Taylor – exquisite as Oliver’s dad – stayed behind to talk about the film (which he had just seen for the first time), his career to date and cinema in general. It was absorbing stuff – and luckily I taped it. So if you’re interested in hearing a bit more about the film, you can catch up below. The talk is, I think, spoiler free.

Noah Taylor talks about Richard Ayoade’s ‘Submarine’, Brighton, Dec 2010 by assistantblog


  1. Hi Jonathan! This looks good, will try and check it out next year! Am a fan of Paddy Considine (he’s often seen having a drink in the cafe near me!) for some reason Sally Hawkins can slightly annoy me though but i’m sure she won’t be too bad!


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