Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 23rd
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size


film_subSly teen angst comedy 'Submarine' runs out of air

Teen angst is nothing new at the movies, and every micro-generation gets its own version. The latest entry in the why-must-I-be-a-teenager-in-love sweepstakes  is Submarine, an often slyly deadpan teen comedy from the chilly seacoast of Swansea, Wales. Laced with wit and sarcasm, it takes its 15-year-old, lovestruck protagonist almost as seriously as he takes himself, although served up with a slice of wry. But while the film gets off to a smart start, it never really gets anywhere, so blinkered by the character's self-absorption that the whole narrative begins to feel claustrophobic.

The film is adapted from the 2008 Joe Dunthorne novel by writer-director Richard Ayoade, a stand-up comedian who has a facility for rapid-fire repartee. Rising young Welsh actor Craig Roberts stars as Oliver Tate.

Gazing out from under his Beatle bangs with noncommittal wariness, Oliver longs for Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a pint-sized femme fatale with a Louise Brooks bob and a red hooded car coat. ("She's moderately unpopular," he observes, "which makes the two of us getting together more likely.") Devising strategies to get close to Jordana occupy most of Oliver's time until Fate intervenes: dumped by her boyfriend, she uses Oliver to get back at her ex, and they become sort of together, for awhile.

Oliver shares an uncertain home life with his parents, his passive, marine biologist father (the always reliable Noah Taylor), and his prim, disappointed mum (Sally Hawkins), once a wannabe actress now stuck in a boring clerical job. The spark has all but gone out in their marriage; Oliver knows this because he keeps scrupulous tabs on how often they have sex, along with frequent "routine surveillance" missions into their bedroom. Complicating things is new next-door neighbor, Graham Purvis (the great Paddy Considine),  an aura-reading, New Age snake-oil salesman with a slew of self-help DVDs and a really bad mullet haircut, who may be making the moves on Mum.

As he revels in his relationship with Jordana (a verb I use advisedly, since this kid never, ever cracks a smile), Oliver must also cope with evidence that romances don't always work out, possible parental infidelity, and a subplot involving cancer (sobering until it's no longer needed, when it's simply dismissed). Through it all, he bonds with his dad, who admits to being depressed since he was Oliver's age, which feels like "being underwater." The drowning metaphor is all over this movie, from a consideration that no ultrasound technology can communicate what another person is feeling, to the large, bubbling aquarium installed in the wall high above the Tate family kitchen table. Pretty soon, we're all gasping for air.

There are moments. It's pretty hilarious when Oliver indulges himself in every kid's fantasy of the global grief that would ensue if he suddenly died. (On the other hand, a ridiculous attempted tryst with Jordana involving champagne in a silver bucket, wine in a box, and shrimp, should have been presented as a fantasy; no way could this kid obtain these things in real life.) But the big trouble is, as hard as he tries to rationalize his actions, Oliver often acts like a jerk. Early on, to attract Jordana's attention, he leads a bunch of kids in bullying an overweight girl in their class. The consequences are humiliating, and—in the film's most genuine moment—Oliver is the only one who feels bad about it. Had this plotline been pursued, the movie would be more interesting. But the incident is dismissed with a brief, jokey payoff, and the bullied girl (and all Oliver might have learned from her) disappear from the story.film_submarine

As the story loses momentum, the film runs out of steam. To fall into the coming-of-age category, it's protagonist should actually evolve in some way, and move on. Sadly, this does not happen to Oliver. For all of his self-regard, and the intensity of his self-scrutiny, he ends up pretty much in the same place he started out, plot-wise and emotionally, in a final fade-out meant to be rife with possibilities, but which, in fact, feels like a major step backward. It's hard to cheer on somebody who so stubbornly refuses to learn from his mistakes.


★★1/2 (out of four) Watch film trailer >>>

With Craig Roberts, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, and Sally Hawkins. Written and directed by Richard Ayoade. From the novel by Joe Dunthorne. A Weinstein Company release. Rated R. 97 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Best of Santa Cruz County 2014

The 2014 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll Come on in, and have a look around. There’s a lot to see—hundreds of winners selected by thousands of GT readers across Santa Cruz County. So if some of this looks familiar, it’s probably because you helped make it happen. But there are always new things to discover, too—you could go to a different winner or runner-up every day in the Food and Drink category alone, and you’d be booked just about until next year’s Best of Santa Cruz County issue comes out.


Something Essential Disappears

Lunar and solar eclipses follow one another. Lunar eclipses occur at full moons, and solar eclipses at new moons. Two weeks ago at the full moon we had the blood red moon—a total lunar eclipse (the next one is Oct. 8). On Monday night, April 28 (new moon), as the Sun, Moon and Earth align, a solar eclipse (Sun obscured) occurs. Eclipses signify something irrevocably is changed in our world. The Sun is our essential life force. Monday’s new moon, 9 degrees Taurus, is also an annular solar eclipse when the Moon moves centrally in front of the Sun, yet does not cover the Sun completely. The Sun's outer edges, still visible, form a “ring of fire” around the Moon.


Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.


Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments


Palate-Stretching 101

A wine education with Soif’s experts As a veteran of many weekend wine “seminars” at Soif, I have to confess that I’ve never known less (going in) and learned more (coming out) than I did last week at the Spanish Wine Tasting with ace rep Brian Greenwood. These are classy, casual events and it’s hard to imagine having this much flavor fun anywhere for $20.


Martin Ranch Winery

Sauvignon Blanc 2011 One of my favorite wines is Sauvignon Blanc, and this one made by Martin Ranch is particularly lovely. Bright, crisp and refreshing, it’s perfect to pair with fish and shellfish—and good for picnics as it has an easy screw-cap bottle. There’s nothing worse than setting down your blanket, pulling out your sandwiches—and then realizing you don’t have a corkscrew.


Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.


How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management