SUBMARINE, a delightful surprise from Wales, takes the familiar coming-of-age tale and gives it an approach so original as to make the familiar seem fresh. The protagonist, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is painfully self-aware and deliciously oblivious, a hopeless romantic when it comes to the coolly ironic Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), and a cynical observer of all else in his life. The dry black humor that pervades the triumphs and tragedies of young Olivers life has the unexpected effervescence of hyperbole as the story delves into the dangerous territories of sex, death, and the loss of innocence.
Oliver is young man given to flights of daydreaming fantasy as a way of coping with his daily life with a mother (Sally Hawkins) who overcompensates for her own neuroses by overanalyzing Olivers, and a marine-biologist father (Noah Taylor) given to lemon-tinged bouts of depression and a job he cant explain to anyone without an advanced degree. Having grown up as the most grounded member of his small family, he has developed a peculiar relationship with his parents, playing to their expectations while studying them as though they were lab rats, charting with alarm their declining sex life. His escape, aside from those elaborate daydreams, is Jordana, a girl with porcelain delicacy whose faults are limited to a penchant for bullying, a fondness for starting fires, and intermittent bouts of eczema, As he calculates it, she is just unpopular enough to be attainable, but just popular enough to make her desirable.
The astringent comedy never strays far from bone-crushing pathos as Oliver experiences his first pangs of true love, his parents drift apart, and the arrival of a New Age guru (Paddy Considine sporting an emphatic mullet) with a shared past with Olivers mother, all combine to threaten the stability of his moribund home life. The idioms are of experimental drama, the music is the overweening crescendo of a distraught melodrama. Polite but pointed banter is juxtaposed with the kinetic cuts that mimic the experience of full-blown teen angst and Roberts, a young man with an unnervingly piercing stare, brings gravitas to the essential naiveté of a 15-year-olds world view. There is a sophisticated subtly at play in the a perfectly timed thud of his head finding a wall as he deflates in disappointment, or the way he gently humors his fathers unaccustomed animation upon discovering his son has finally shown an interest in the opposite sex.
SUBMARINE is a heightened reality, but within its endlessly fascinating look at average people mulling through their lives, it finds the extraordinary in the quotidian. Snippets of blazing truth and equally blazing humor thread their way through a story that has been told a million times, but never quite like this.