By Ray Bennett
TORONTO – Joe Dunthorne’s delightfully idiosyncratic 2008 novel “Submarine,” in which a smart and eccentrically gifted 15-year-old muses about school, girls, movies, parents and life in general, is the kind of book that almost never is made into a film of matching quality. Richard Ayoade’s movie “Submarine” is a sublime exception.
Given a central character who describes his own take on things while evidence to the contrary is there for all to see, the film could easily get a case of the insufferable cutes, but Ayoade succeeds with a light touch and a keen sense of the absurd.
Fans of vaguely twisted humor rendered by skilled actors with straight faces will eat this up, and if it catches the right wave, “Submarine” could navigate towards wide appeal with acclaim and consequent box office success.
Jaunty and sly with a great many laughs, the film also has on its soundtrack several typically witty and melodic songs written and performed by Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys.
Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate and Yasmin Paige as his beloved Jordana are perfect, with each demonstrating a pleasing agility in vocal and facial expression that adds immeasurably to the drollery.
Roberts plays Oliver as a young man in Wales whose grasp of imagined possibilities is greater than his grip on reality and he manages it with great charm. Paige is a wonder as Jordana, who brings Oliver down to earth abruptly with her simple but at that age savage statements of honesty. Adept at glances that render speech unnecessary and, for a yearning boy, rid the world of hope, she also can grant the wickedest hint of a smile that soothes all ills.
Roberts’ confident voice-over derives from Dunthorne’s writing with observations about scenes that the director and cinematographer Erik Wilson play with mischievously.
Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins play Oliver’s parents with a smart duality that reflects both the boy’s impression of them and who they might actually be. Their reading of lines that touch on serious matters regarding education, teenagers and sexual activity are so dry they become hilarious.
Paddy Considine contributes a vision of a mystic mentalist whose over-the-top brio is curiously tempered by self-doubt even as he attempts to seduce the compliant Mrs. Tate.
Schoolyard bullying, classroom pranks, and the pain in the teenaged heart caused by unrequited love are all detailed with a fine attention to nuance. It’s clever stuff, and very funny.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival; Sales: Protagonist Pictures; Production company: Warp Films; Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Page, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins; Director, screenwriter: Richard Ayoade, based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne; Producers: Marj Herbert, Andy Stebbing, Mary Burke; Executive producers: Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer; Director of photography: Erik Wilson; Production designer: Gary Williamson; Music: Alex Turner, Andrew Hewitt; Costume designer: Charlotte Walter; Editors: Nick Fenton, Chris Dickens; No rating, running time 94 minutes.
This review appears in The Hollywood Reporter