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SUBMARINE (2011) (***1/2)

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Coming of age films are common, but one like this one is uncommon. Outcasts are so often the central character. That’s the case here, but this isn’t your nice blameless outcast. He’s selfish and cruel and real. It’s like a British RUSHMORE.

Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, JANE EYRE) tells us from the start that this is his biography. He even explains where Wales is for American audiences. Oliver is a bit of an outcast. He is smarter than the other kids, but as self aware as any teenager. Maybe even less so. He wants to have sex and believes that Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige, BALLET SHOES) is his best chance. However, his awkward eagerness doesn’t really help his cause. Lucky for him Jordana is more forthright than he expects and isn’t into grand gestures of affection.

Meanwhile, Oliver worries about is parents’ relationship. His father Lloyd (Noah Taylor, SHINE) is a marine biologist who is prone to episodes of deep depression. If you see him drinking hot water with lemon you know it’s bad. His mother Jill (Sally Hawkins, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY) looks prim and proper and comes off cold and frustrated with her morose husband. But there is a bit of whimsy that runs inside her. She starts following the New Age guru Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine, IN AMERICA), who was once her boyfriend. Lloyd’s look upon being asked to accompany Jill to one of Graham’s seminars encapsulates his thoughts about Graham, his wife and quackery in general.

Oliver narrates the tale with a spin that casts himself as a hero, despite his narcissism. He doesn’t like bullying in principle, but is willing to bend his ethics when Jordana is part of ridiculing an overweight classmate. Feeling guilty Olivier then sends the girl an apology in the form of a giant informational packet. When Jordana asks if he wants to sleep with her, he asks whether his answer will affect his chances of it actually happening. His monitoring of his parents’ sex life is ingenious and creepy at the same time.

Roberts and Paige make for an engaging couple, which makes it easy for the audience to hope they will get beyond their issues and work out. Olivier’s self-absorption keeps him from really connecting with Jordana, while her distance does the same. As is so often the case, she will come around sooner than he does. We hope that he will come around in time. The problem is that he is more interested in making her the version of the girl he wants than actually getting to know her.

Writer/director Richard Ayoade makes an impressive feature directing debut, having made his mark on the British comedy THE IT CROWD. Working with cinematographer Erik Wilson, he creates a poetic looking film that almost seems in contrast to the quirky tone. This forms a sense of nostalgia while staying true to his character’s less than likable behavior. The fact that such an egocentric character is so relatable is because it’s true.

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Rick DeMott
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