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Submarine by Richard Ayoade: Not Your Typical Romance Flick

January 17, 2016

Submarine is not your typical run-of-the-mill ‘coming-of-age’ flick where boy falls in love with girl. Instead, it features our protagonist - self-proclaimed literary genius Oliver Tate (played by Craig Roberts) - falling in love with the idiosyncratic Jordana (Yasmin Paige), an emotionally high-strung pyromaniac. A debut by first-time director Richard Ayoade, Submarine delicately details Oliver’s struggles as he tries to prevent his parents from falling out of love, while he tries to dabble in that very aspect himself. Submarine’s seemingly conventional story arc is nicely re-imagined on screen, as Ayoade’s novel screenplay turns romantic clichés on their heads with his immense wit and impressive directing. 

        Set in Wales, the first minute of the film features a breath-taking montage of the Swansea coast, with the aid of natural lighting to truly capture the authenticity of the moment. This sequence introduces us to the intentionally raw feel of the film. Oliver’s intriguing character is almost wholly revealed in this short opening scene as his silhouette appears against the blood-red beach sky, allowing us to adopt the ‘me against the world’ attitude that Oliver (and Oliver alone) possesses. The excellent use of colour is a recurring theme throughout this film, with strong red hues and blue gradients a commonplace, perhaps to reflect both Oliver’s internal adolescent anger and melancholy. 
        As Oliver takes us through his own biopic, Ayoade does a magnificent job at getting the audience immersed into his state of mind. One particular instance is when Jordana is first introduced. With unconventional, extreme close-up shots, coupled with minor vignetting, this visual tension on screen is nicely accompanied by Oliver’s quiet yet confident narration, as he declares, “Jordana never speaks about herself. She could be anything. Perhaps she's a Fabian.” Given the enthralling way in which Jordana is portrayed on screen, she really, indeed, “could be anything”. To Oliver, as he cleverly remarks, Jordana “would improve my street cred.”

        Music plays a crucial role in both the stylistic and emotional development of this film. For the former, the subtle use of music through Andrew Hewitt’s score helps to seamlessly weave together seemingly disjunct shots throughout the movie. Furthermore, Alex Turner’s contribution to the soundtrack cannot go unnoticed. As frontman of the popular British band The Arctic Monkeys, Alex Turner strips the music down and plays hauntingly beautiful acoustic originals that seamlessly fit into the various montages and scenes. Given the strong emotional and charming performance from Roberts and Paige, Submarine is a movie that truly stands out and speaks on a personal level across all aspects. 

        However, an aspect that I did not particularly enjoy in this film was its pacing. Ayoade at times had trouble trying to balance the incorporation of scenic shots into dramatic moments while keeping the plot going at a comfortable pace. This results in certain parts of the movie to feel too slow to my liking. Despite the minor issues with pacing, the movie still appeals aesthetically and visually, making the entire movie experience undoubtedly enjoyable at the end of the day.
        Perhaps what stands out most is this - Ayoade, with the help of stunning source material from the novel of the same name, has imagined compelling characters on screen in the perfectly cast Oliver and Jordana, two lovebirds (by circumstance) who do not ‘look good’ and arrive without much fanfare. And perhaps that was the intention. To present a raw, authentic view of themes like love, portraying it through Oilver’s self-righteous yet timid lens. For what on paper seems to be a bland and boring movie, Ayoade still somehow manages to make their horribly dry ‘love story’ a marvellous sight to watch. 


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