Most if us in Britain know Richard Ayoade as the bumbling afro geek from the IT Crowd, an often pleasing Channel 4 television comedy enjoying critical praise that also spawned the fame of Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids, FAQ About Time Travel). Total Film readers will have no doubt enjoyed his regular monthly columns usually relating, in some form or another, to the movie industry. Here, Ayoade picks up the camera for the first time to direct Joe Dunthorne's story of uncomfortable teenager Oliver Tate.
As you might expect if you have seen (or in some cases read) any of his work, what seems like Ayoade's semi-autobiographical directorial opener is smart, funny, witty and well observed. He has captured the fumbling insecurities of a less confident youth in awakening quite magically, yet there is something not quite right about our Oliver. This may not be his original work, but you can just about see Ayoade as a child here, maybe making the story so well observed.
Narrated almost entirely throughout by Oliver himself, he exhibits all of the teenage problems that any misunderstood and desperate youth find themselves encumbered by, but this smart, unpopular kid in school is determined to break free of this existence by bagging a girlfriend and losing his virginity, even if his approach to the subject is often clumsy and occasionally actually scary for his intended target, Jordana.
When new neighbour Graham arrives, it becomes quite obvious to the permanently inquisitive Oliver that Graham and his mother, played brilliantly dryly by Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) both have a history and potentially are re-igniting an old flame. Nothing gets by Oliver who soon learns what is going on, and of the ongoing and subsequent marital problems of his parents.
Given Ayoade's background, you would be naturally inclined to expect a comedy from him, and whilst Submarine does have it's moments of levity, this is a coming-of-drama more than anything else, substantially more in the vein of another old Channel 4 classic P'Tang Yang Kipperbang in feel and mood. Ayoade is proving himself her and directorially, he does an admirable job. This is no Tyrannosaur (directed by Paddy Considine, who plays the part of Graham here), but of the crop of would be film-makers of his generation and origin, Ayoade's work here is as good as any of them and better than most.
The acting is effective from everyone. Hawkins, as mentioned, is probably the most impressive, though we are not really given much of an opportunity to appreciate her too often. The cast as a whole do some sterling work, but the script is accomplished for which Ayoade again should be praised.
Altogether a very enjoyable, simple film, which is technically effective beyond the experience of its Director and although not layered too finely, establishes both cast and crew with some deserved credibility. Never dawdling enough to become tiresome, this is a good opener from Ayoade, who I will be keen to see more of in the future.