Adults lie. They know it and kids know it. When a parent tells an adolescent that he or she will "get over" a broken heart or fractured friendship, the adult knows all too well that some wounds never completely heal.
"Such things won't matter when you're 38," 15-year-old Oliver Tate is told when he faces his latest disappointment. In due time, he learns that such things matter a great deal.
First envisioned in a 2008 novel by Welsh-born Joe Dunthorne, Oliver is a curiosity. While he trudges through an ordinary life, his dreams are extraordinary. He fantasizes about a legendary existence to be succeeded by a Christ-like resurrection after he dies.
But Oliver is 15. He is defined by a school uniform, winter duffle coat and a John Lennon-esque mop of hair. He carries a briefcase to school, logs all of his personal observations in a tiny notebook and regularly reads the dictionary. He's not a nerd but he's awfully close.
What really interests Oliver is sex. Not love, not lust. Sex. He resolves to lose his virginity by his next birthday but not with just any girl. The very specific object of his affection is the slightly dangerous Jordana, whose obsession with fire is this side of pyromania. Their relationship is crafted with immense care and perfect wit by the fine source material of Dunthorne, the skilled direction of Richard Ayoade (Maurice Moss on The IT Crowd) and the wonderful acting of Craig Roberts as Oliver and Yasmin Paige as Jordana. Having seen Paige previously on the stage in London's West End, she's clearly a star in the making. The spotlight and the camera lens love her.
To label Submarine as a coming-of-age story, lazily lumping it into a broad category used by many film critics, is to dismiss this highly original movie. Ayoade's use of quick, smart edits, natural lighting and a snazzy soundtrack that features Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys belies the fact that this is Ayoade's first feature film. He clearly loves his source material, resulting in 97 wonderful minutes that dance between folly and reality.
Submarine has its own uneasy but distinct rhythm, with fits and starts not unlike adolescence itself. Youth has rarely been so accurately and entertainingly portrayed. If you're a fan of Napoleon Dynamite or Garden State, this one is for you.
The cast is rounded out by the always-great Sally Hawkins as Oliver's mom, Jill, and Australian Noah Taylor as Lloyd, his dad. Oliver's parents are perfectly passive, resulting in a quite imperfect family.
Submarine's title comes from the fact that the Tate household is filled with marine memorabilia, as Lloyd is an unemployed marine biologist. We are reminded that in many places, the ocean is too deep to sustain human life but using a vessel such as a submarine allows us to comfortably explore the sea. Indeed humans can survive while navigating the depths, even depths of the heart. We just sometimes need a little help.