I wonder if losing your virginity was anything like how it happened in this British comedy called Submarine.
The Gospel According to Ari Gold:
“Vince, if you wanna be a movie star, ya gotta do a big studio movie. E, tell your boy to get on the same page as his agent.”
Maybe Ari Gold is a fictional big-time Hollywood agent. But that doesn’t mean that his take on their hierarchy of films was wrong. At the top of the chart is a big studio blockbuster, then a big studio film. This was followed by a small studio film, then indies, then art films. Unfortunately, in the jungle called the movie industry, it is the indies and the art films that are looking for a shot at the big time. They apply to the festivals and hope for a slot, so they might attract a big distribution deal.
One such film is Submarine directed by Richard Ayoade. This was a film produced in Britain in 2010 and was recently picked up by Harvey and Bob Weinstein, who together were once known as Miramax, but are now called The Weinstein Group (TWG). This film was a very late addition to the Sarasota Film Festival. In fact, this film came to the SFF only after the Festival’s Film Guide had already been printed.
This is a laugh-out-loud, coming-of-age film that takes place in Wales in the UK. The time setting of the film is rather hard to determine – it could be the mid eighties – I’m guessing because of the smaller sized b & w telly’s, the lack of automobiles, and the loden coats with the wooden toggle buttons.
The story is told to us in both voice over narrations and it’s focus on the lead character: 15 year old Oliver Tate. He’s a somewhat normal kid. He can’t wait to lose his virginity, and he frets over his folks’ marriage which seems to be disintegrating rapidly.
School is what you might expect. The boys and girls both wear blazers and shirts and ties, notes are passed in classrooms, there’s a lot of bullying and some quite unkind teasing, and almost all the kids seemed to be carrying both the weight of the world on their shoulders along with the weight of constant horniness which never seems to to diminish in intensity. Ah, those raging hormones.
Ayoade has done a great job of establishing the parameters of the dual story lines that Oliver must live through in the first half of the film. He trots out a number of filmy tricks like freeze frames, voices overs, montages, and the unusual fade to black, or it is sometimes red, or blue, or orange. These usually mark a passage of time as in Intro, Part I, Part II, etc, plus Epilogue.
Oliver is played rather well by Craig Roberts. He’s in hot pursuit of one Jordana Bevens who is played in sort of a one-note manner by Yasmin Page. She’s the object of his affections, or lust, or both. And seemingly she has the upper hand most of the time.
But Oliver is the one we root for. He’s a bit quirky at times, not to mention underhanded, but you do get a good opportunity to laugh at a number of things he says and does. But these laughs seem to come more from the context rather than the actual spoken words of the scripted dialogues. Oh, some of it is clever, and laughs do come easily – but it isn’t the wittiness itself. However he is still a likeable kid.
The kids have their own pecking order, and hierarchy, and no kid is able to refrain from giving Oliver advice about his sexual scorecard, which is quite blank for the longest time. He does arrange for a date with Jordana when his parents are expected to be out for the movies. In the pre-discussions of this date where he forthrightly tells her that they will have the house to themselves, so they can finally do the deed, in comfort and without distractions.
The fateful night arrives. He paces or sits nervously, the clock hardly moves. Ayoade draws out poor Oliver’s tension in a delightful way. That’s delightful for us – but agony for Oliver. And this is after his parents ALMOST didn’t go out at all. Jordana finally arrives, has dinner and then changes her mind and leaves. Maybe it was the over-candled bedroom, or maybe it was Oliver’s studied pose on the bed, that turned her off. But she will change her mind once more and come back moments later. Fade out, fade in – Oliver is no longer a virgin.
But it was all off-screen; we only see it after-the-fact as both lie in bed with the blankets up to their throats, and Ollie has that satisfied grin on his face. Yes, in a film about losing one’s virginity, there’s no onscreen sex at all. Not even a wee bit of groping or heavy breathing.
“Treat ’em mean, to keep them keen. Don’t mix family and bush“. These are but two of the ones that I could understand as this character was the sole one in the whole cast with an accent that rendered his English nearly indeciferable to my American ears.
But you will notice or detect the slump in the second half. Okay, the second half of the film is more about Oliver’s problems with Jordana which seem to escalate as does his simultaneous concern about his parents teetering marriage. This change of focus, and lack of urgency, seems to drag the film down to a degree. The film isn’t going to run off the tracks, but it does look and feel different.
Notice that I did say look and feel different. I did not say that the script fell apart. The whole film is based upon certain absurdities in Oliver’s speeches, style, and manner. But as the absurdities increase, the credibility falters, and when the film makes a half turn toward serious moments like death by cancer, marital infidelities, and Jordana’s change of heart, its humor takes a back seat.
That aside, the film was an over-all nice bit of entertainment. Most of you who are reading this review, may have gone through similar anxieties about your own personal crossing of the divide, as in coming of age. So as we watch Oliver’s struggles, we can recall our own. This is where the film is at its most charming. This is where we can identify with the characters most easily.
Thanks to Harvey and Bob for bringing this indie/arty type film to the SFF. At the same time, I’m sure that this is big break for Director Richard Ayoade, who himself is only 34 years old. This was his feature film debut. His future looks bright.