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PARK CITY — Sundance Film Festival, Spotlight — A coming-of-age tale full of wit and panache, Submarine identifies strongly with its misfit hero but spreads its sympathies around as well. Not as pushily entertaining as some films of its type, it may not be a hit but should make a strong showing in theaters.
Set in Wales but in no particular time period, the comedy offers 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), an anxious kid failing to be inconspicuous about his crush on the moody Jordana. While chronicling his mission to win her in a funny, almost ever-present voiceover, Tate is also fretting, for good reason, about the state of his parents’ marriage.
Oliver’s self-scrutiny is occasionally mirrored by the film itself, which takes some of its editing and camera work cues directly from his voiceover. First-time director Richard Ayoade is sparing with the gag, letting it poke at our suspension of disbelief without shattering it.
The same holds for the plot’s more quirky elements, like the mullet-wearing, custom-van-driving charlatan next door (Graham, played with gusto by Paddy Considine) who practices ninja moves and holds seminars offering self-improvement through aura analysis (or something like that). Graham turns out to have a complicated past with Oliver’s mom (Sally Hawkins), and the movie allows him enough vulnerability to dilute the character’s cartoonish tendencies.
Both Jordana and Oliver’s Mom are enigmas in a film that, by design, only understands the male soul. Oliver’s anxiety is reflected more darkly by the depressive bouts suffered by his father: Noah Taylor is sad but not self-pitying in that role, providing a poignant look at the child’s possible future and offering him something to overcome.
Ayoade and DP Erik Wilson use lots of natural light, but the movie’s compositional tendencies and uptempo editing give it a heightened tone. Many viewers will feel echoes of Rushmore, particularly in the opening half-hour, but Submarine is substantially less twee than Wes Anderson‘s film and less ironic about its adolescent hero.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Spotlight (Weinstein Company)
Production Company: Warp Films
Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins
Director-Screenwriter: Richard Ayoade
Producers: Mark Herbert, Andy Stebbing, Mary Burke
Executive producers: Pauline Burt, Peter Carlton, Will Clarke, Paul Higgins, Linda James, Tessa Ross, Ben Stiller, Stuart Cornfeld, Jeremy Kramer
Director of photography: Erik Alexander Wilson
Production designer: Gary Williamson
Music: Andrew Hewitt
Costume designer: Charlotte Walter
Editors: Nick Fenton, Chris Dickens
No rating, 97 minutes
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