Best known as an actor to UK audiences thanks to his performance as Moss on Channel 4’s increasingly tiresome The IT Crowd, it’s likely that the vast majority of viewers have been unaware that Richard Ayoade has spent the last couple of years moonlighting as a director on Warp Film’s roster. With a variety of pop promos to his name, including those for the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Super Furry Animals and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, needless to say it’s proven quite a successful aside for the comedian.
Submarine marks his first foray in to feature filmmaking and, for a debut, it’s an impressive and remarkably assured piece of work. Based on Joe Dunthorne’s novel of the same name, at its core Submarine is essentially a coming-of-age-drama which focuses on the life of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) a pretentious and socially inept 15 year-old living in Swansea whose chronic delusions of grandeur cause him to consider himself vastly superior to his peers. He falls in love with Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a straight talking if somewhat mischievous classmate and sets out to woo her. However, his attempts to do so are mired by his own personal troubles at home: Oliver is cautiously aware that his parents’ relationship is on the rocks and takes it upon himself to fix their marriage, whilst simultaneously attempting to juggle his relationship with Jordana.
Touches like Oliver’s amusing stream of conscious narration and observational quips provide the film with a charmingly comic tone, but Submarine walks a fine line between light-hearted comedy and affecting melodrama in its willingness to tackle the darker aspects of youth. This affords a level of believability largely absent from previous depictions of adolescence and Submarine’s success in this regard is entirely down to two beautifully understated performances from Roberts and Paige, which are both parts subtly comic and unexpectedly poignant.
In the hands of a lesser director, attempting to adapt Dunthorne’s novel could very easily have resulted in a disaster blighted by the usual tropes of teen comedies. Instead, largely due to his care to shirk the usual conventions of coming-of-age tales – namely those involving awkward sex scenes and gaudily idiotic fawning over the opposite sex - under Ayoade’s direction the content is so deftly handled that Submarine feels nothing if self-assured and masterfully assembled. Bolstered by a quietly contemplative acoustic soundtrack from Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner and compelling performances across the board, from the off Submarine exudes coolness by the bucketload, and marks out Ayoade as one of the UK’s most exciting new directorial talents.