There’s a very fine line between a great coming-of-age movie and a really annoying coming-of-age movie. Great coming-of-age movies have interesting characters, good writing, and are very relatable. Annoying coming-of-age movies have none of these qualities and are very irritating because of this. We, as audiences, have seen an abundance of both. Coming-of-age movies work because they relate to people of all ages; teenagers experiencing what’s going on in the film, and adults who want to reminisce. In the film Submarine, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) narrates the events going on his life, most notably the possible divorce of his two parents and his undying and premature love for Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a girl who he’s been watching for a while now, waiting to make his move. Oliver hasn’t quite found his place in life yet, and he seems to be on an eternal search. He doesn’t quite have his parents Lloyd and Jill (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins) to look up to, as Oliver suspects his mother to be having an affair with an old flame who moved in next door, Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine). Graham is a “self-help guru” and Oliver’s mother is completely infatuated with him while his scientist father attempts to subtly reconcile.
Submarine has everything that a good coming-of-age film should have except a plot. The film’s near two-hour running time drags exponentially, and it seems like style took precedence over substance. Music video director Richard Ayoade gives an amazing flair to Submarine’s otherwise bland content. He does however spice things up with a soundtrack by Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys, who he shot a video for a couple of years ago to promote their single “Cornerstone”. Incidentally, I owned the soundtrack almost a full year before seeing the film, and I happen to think it’s one of the best albums of 2011, but that’s a different story for a different review.
Ayoade also penned the screenplay that is lacking severely in pacing, relatability, and likeable characters. There’s also an overuse of annoying narration by our protagonist. It seems unnecessary after a while, and is accompanied by stylish montages that had me thinking how much shorter this film actually could’ve been. The disconnect, in my opinion, is the eagerness to differentiate itself from the source material, a novel of the same name by Joe Dunthorne, but in doing that, it reveals its core dependency on it. Characters and situations are changed, but in the end, it all felt like a rushed and loose adaptation that wanted to be more.
As far as characters go, none of them are strictly speaking likeable or even relatable, especially Oliver. His narcissism and facetiousness gets annoying after about 10 minutes, and the entrance of Jordana saved this movie from being turned off my TV. She represents the girl we all knew in high school, and her performance is fantastic.
Oliver’s mother is so beyond ungrateful that you wonder what made Mr. Tate, a mild-mannered and well-meaning father, marry her in the first place.
Surprisingly, Ben Stiller produced Submarine. Stiller is known mostly for his slapstick and family comedies by most, but we can’t forget his cult classics Heavyweights, The Cable Guy, and to some degree of cult-ishness, Tropic Thunder. At first I was shocked to see his name anywhere need this film, but after a while, it began to make a little bit of sense.
Submarine is a lot of things, but groundbreaking isn’t one of them. In fact, it really isn’t even very entertaining, and without its stylish direction, likeable female lead, and fantastic soundtrack, it would’ve been nothing at all.