Oliver (Craig Roberts) is no ordinary coming-of-age anti-hero. Indeed, it sometimes feels like he’s the director of Submarine, the smart and oft-hilarious movie that follows him around. On the soundtrack, the Welsh teen confesses that he often feels like he’s being trailed by a documentary crew, but one too cheap to afford a fancy crane shot—at which point the camera rocks a cheap, awkward pull-away. Homages to the French New Wave abound, and when he hits an emotional valley late in, he retires to the ocean at dusk to “wait for the sky to catch up with my mood.” The narration track exists as a brooding valentine to his lonely cleverness, riddled with wry observations ripe for sloppy transcribing in your notebook. (“I decided to soften the blow with some light arson,” he announces after a particular disappointment.)
Oliver, luckily, isn’t really the director of Submarine; rather, it’s someone both empathetic to his growing pains yet too critical to let him off the hook. The feature debut of Richard Ayoade—one of the brightest stars of current British comedy, best known as nasal nerd Moss on The IT Crowd—Submarine charts a young egomaniac’s slow realization of other people and of the strong possibility that he’s a total pratt.
First, Oliver attracts the attention of Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a mordant girl with an Anna Karina ’do and weirdly charming case of eczema, who shows her affection by burning his leg hair with matches. But his attention cruelly drifts away, fixating on another couple’s love life. Mom (Sally Hawkins) has begun a hesitant flirtation with a cartoonish New Age guru (Paddy Considine), which has led scientist dad (Noah Taylor, once upon a time the eccentric star of movies exactly like this) to shut down utterly.
Oliver may act as though his intelligence frees him of selfish wrongdoing. But Ayoade doesn’t. He subtly takes his protagonist to task, and though his style may smack of Wes Anderson, he deviates enough from this obvious influence to establish a voice that’s if not original than original enough. No Anderson film, no matter how pretty, is as bewitching as Submarine’s shots of the Welsh seaside.