★★★ / ★★★★
Oliver (Craig Roberts) is interested in Jordana (Yasmin Paige) but like most teenage boys who think too much, he just cannot find the courage to ask her on a date. Since Jordana, equipped with a 60s haircut and fiery personality, takes pleasure in bullying others, Oliver’s plan is to bully the fat girl in their class. Meanwhile, Oliver’s situation at home is increasingly intense. His parents, Jill and Lloyd (Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor), are going through a rough patch in their marriage. It does not help that Jill’s former-flame-turned-psychic, Graham (Paddy Considine), has recently moved next door and Jill appears to want to rekindle their connection.
“Submarine,” written and directed by Richard Ayaode, at least in its first thirty minutes, is painfully saccharine in its attempt to be unique, but it eventually proves to be better than its set-up because it is not just about a weird but intelligent kid who tries to make sense of everything going on around him. Its quirkiness is only its initial platform and it is eventually able to move on from it.
A few seconds after we meet the observant Oliver, he claims that the only he way he can survive sometimes is to live a life completely detached from reality. That is an important recurring theme: the way he spies on his parents’ lovemaking or lack thereof, his strong belief that his neighbors are ninjas, and certain expectations he has from Jordana even though they do not really know one another. (He considers sex as the defining point in their relationship.) It is fascinating that even though his attention is constantly on other people, there is a self-importance in his actions, not uncommon in teens attempting to try on different identities in hopes of finding one that might fit perfectly.
However, I wished the film focused more on Oliver’s underlying feelings of pain. While a lot of people tend to believe that teenagers only care about themselves and what feels good to them, I believe otherwise. I think teenagers are sensitive to all kinds of emotions–too sensitive to the point where a tiny, insignificant action or phrase can trigger unnecessary physical altercations and emotional turmoil. Oliver finds himself trapped between his parents’ passive-aggressive ways of dealing with conflict. Jill and Lloyd do not have screaming matches, just “discussions,” yet the silence that takes over the room while the family of three eat dinner makes things incredibly awkward.
And then there is Jordana and her mother with terminal illness. We are only given one scene with her and it involves three out of four people crying on screen. It feels uncharacteristically untrue to the rest of the picture’s tone. It is almost manipulative.
“Submarine,” based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, is appropriately titled because Oliver is exactly that: surrounded by darkness and the unknown, under extreme pressure, while attempting to get to his destination. But what sets Oliver from a machine is his heart: a lot of the time he still aims to do good even if it means putting others’ wants before his needs.