A title card at the beginning of Submarine contains a plea addressed to American audiences from the film's protagonist, Oliver Tate, to treat the film gently, because it's an important story. This shot of self-awareness carries throughout the film, an ironic retelling of the classing coming-of-age narrative. Oliver is self-aggrandizing and selfish, and goes about ostracizing those closest to him unwittingly. Submarine often tries too hard to skirt the mainstream, but strong performances and some sharp humor keep the ship from sinking.
Fifteen-year-old Oliver (Craig Roberts) spends his free time imagining his schoolmates' heartache and fond remembrances that would follow his untimely death. Back in reality, the viewer sees that these classmates either dislike Oliver's pretense or don't know him at all. Oliver manages to catch the eye of Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), who initially courts him to get back at an ex-boyfriend. Jordana is a Juno-esque hipster who dislikes the term "girlfriend," but likely listens to Neutral Milk Hotel. The pair eventually gets wrapped up in young love, and Oliver begins using his limited experience with romance to suture the open wounds of his parents' crumbling marriage.
British director Richard Ayoade works overtime to keep things interesting, throwing in a subplot involving Oliver's mom (Sally Hawkins) and her possible affair with a neighbor (Paddy Considine). Submarine also throws a curveball to Oliver in the form of a tumor in the skull of Jordana's mom. Suddenly sure that showing too much affection is a sign of weakness, Oliver manages to torpedo the relationship just as it hits its stride. Not much actually happens in Submarine, but Oliver and Jordana are dryly witty beyond their years. Oliver over-plans a date on which he plans to lose his virginity and completely spooks Jordana. Oliver's sad sack dad (Noah Taylor) even makes him a cassette of romance songs, including a few for the inevitable break-up.
It is too easy to brand Submarine as hipster cinema, but the Ben Stiller-produced dramedy certainly coats the proceedings with enough indie music and pop-culture baiting to earn the title. James McAvoy look-alike Roberts carries the film solidly on his lean shoulders, but the script ought to have allowed him to have a bit more fun. For an adolescent too young to drive, Oliver tries to take on the world's problems foolhardily. The whole clueless dad and wandering mom storyline feels a bit forced, as does Jordana's ultimate betrayal.
Submarine is by no means a bad film, but I was never particularly enchanted. Teens in a similar moment will appreciate Oliver's tribulations, but everyone else might prefer a bit less angst. After all, fifteen is too young to be this cynical.
The 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer for Submarine is consistently strong. Erik Wilson's cinematography is beautiful, and the transfer supports it with ample detail and texture throughout. The grays, greens and blues of Oliver's seaside village are perfectly saturated, as are the golden rays of sunlight that occasionally pierce the dreary surroundings. Blacks are generally solid, though a bit of crush pops up in an extended nighttime sequence. There is a nice layer of grain that gives Submarine a film-like appearance, and I noticed only an instance or two of minimal aliasing. The image is occasionally a bit soft, but the transfer is overall quite striking.
Submarine's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is surprisingly deep and immersive. Ambient effects are restrained but effective, and dialogue is always clear. The hearty soundtrack is quite impressive, and the tunes, from Arctic Monkeys' front-man Alex Turner, resonate throughout the sound field. This track is altogether nicely balanced and pleasing to the ear. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also available.
The only extras are a few inconsequential deleted and extended scenes (12:53) and The Making of Submarine (10:57), a brief, EPK-style look at the production.
Life is tough for fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate, who must shoulder his parents' crumbling marriage, school woes and a healthy dose of cynicism while working to grow his relationship with girlfriend Jordana. This Ben Stiller-produced dramedy has several moments of pleasingly dry humor, but considers itself too hip for its own good. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray features solid picture and sound but lacks significant extras. Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.