PLOT: A young lad named Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) growing up in Wales during the eighties, falls in love with an eczema afflicted classmate (Yasmin Paige). At the same time, he must deal with his parents (Noah Taylor & Sally Hawkins) whose marriage is beginning to crumble after the mom's ex-boyfriend (Paddy Considine) moves in next door.
REVIEW: It happens every festival. There's always one film that comes out of nowhere, boasting few big stars, a simple premise, and scant advance buzz that just blows people away and ends up owning the festival. At Sundance, that film was a toss-up between ANIMAL KINGDOM & CATFISH, and at this year's TIFF, that film is SUBMARINE.
Walking into it, I expected something of a cross between NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, and the films of Wes Anderson, albeit with a British flavour. To a certain extent, that's exactly what I got, but really SUBMARINE feels like more than that. While NAPOLEON DYNAMITE was amusing (if overrated), it lacked heart, which is something SUBMARINE has in spades. It's probably more akin to Anderson's work, but done in a way that the film never feels like it's trying to ape anyone else's style. Director Richard Ayoade, who's apparently a big star in the UK has done a marvelous job with this being his debut feature. It instantly marks him as a truly gifted comedic director, and one to watch.
It's absolutely charming, and one that deserves to pick up a big following once the Weinsteins (who just picked up the distribution rights) put it out. It's pretty much a perfect little coming of age comedy, with Roberts' Oliver Tate making one of the most likable teenage protagonists since Jason Schwartzman as Max Fisher in RUSHMORE. He's an awkward, although not exceptionally unpopular boy in his Welsh school. He's just the kind of guy who's usually anonymous unless being sporadically picked on. He lacks the backbone to stand up to bullies (initially) but has enough of a heart to despise himself once caving into peer pressure and teasing an unpopular student.
Roberts had incredible presence here, and this could be a real breakout role. He's almost like a Welsh version of Michael Cera, with him possessing the same impeccable comic timing (say what you will about Cera, but he's masterful when he gets the right role). Playing a character like this always involves walking a thin line between endearing and just plain annoying, but he never becomes the latter. He'll never lose your sympathy, even when he does some truly boneheaded things.
As his love interest, Yasmine Page is a breath of fresh air. Usually, the love interest would be portrayed as saintly, but here, she initially comes off as a bit of a bitch- with her enjoying bullying, and a touch of light arson. However, over the course of the film she matures, and you really feel toward the end that, unlike a lot of other teen characters, she's actually grown into a wiser, kinder person by the time the credits role.
As good as the youngsters are, the adults in the cast should not be forgotten, with a trio of my favourite English actors doing exceptionally funny work. Anyone who read my take on RED, WHITE & BLUE knows how taken I was with Noah Taylor's performance, and here he plays exactly the opposite type of role, but he's no less effective. He plays Oliver's clinically depressed marine biologist dad, whose own inertia allows his marriage to start slipping through his fingers. He's unable to muster enthusiasm for anything, with the exception of a mix tape of relationship/breakup songs he provides for Oliver early in the film.
As his better half, we get the wonderful Sally Hawkins, who also stole scenes in another TIFF selection, NEVER LET ME GO. As the unsatisfied, but complacent mother and wife, she's wonderful, and she makes a character that could have been shrill, likable.
That said, my favourite here has to be Paddy Considine, as Hawkins' ex-boyfriend, turned shag-mullet sporting self help coach. His mind-ninja motivational talks are the funniest thing in the film, and Considine, who other than a brief turn in HOT FUZZ isn't really known for his comedies, is brilliant. I expect his get-up in this film to become a hot Halloween costume for hipsters once this comes out.
So while you may not have heard much about SUBMARINE at this point, I'm confident in assuring readers that's all going to change soon. It's a perfect sleeper, and the best find of the festival. I truly believe this is a future cult classic, and one to watch for.