Teen romance is often hilarious, especially for folks who are no longer teens. No wonder filmmakers keep returning to the topic. Why, to witness a hormonally whacked lad taking love so gravely . . . to contemplate an acne-prone youth actually believing another soul will complete his own . . . to see a young man as he slowly moves his lips in for that first smooch as if the earth's rotation depends on it, is to observe a spectacle either as spectacular as Moses' parting of the Red Sea or as delirious as brunch at Pee-wee's Playhouse.
Of course, Shakespeare had it both ways. Although he eventually transformed Romeo and Juliet into a tragedy of tragedies, until that Act 5, Scene 3 fatal Waterloo, which eviscerates the notion that true love could traipse the roads of Verona unperturbed, there were more than a few amusing banters.
Benvolio: Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo!
Mercutio: Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!
But now with a slightly more chipper viewpoint, writer/director Richard Ayoade has ably adapted Joe Dunthorne's acclaimed Welsh coming-of-age novel, Submarine, a book that has been compared favorably by at least one reviewer to Catcher in the Rye. The result is a deliciously sardonic yet heartfelt film that emerges from a sea of adolescent angst with as much charm as such recent praiseworthy fare as Terry Zwigoff's Ghost Worldand Miguel Arteta's Youth in Revolt.
Set in a time period that feels very mid-'70s, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a haphazard lad, wishes his life was like a cinematic work in the making. His goal, besides a life worthy of a film that is "a monumental achievement," is to answer the question "What kind of person am I?"
Aiding Oliver in this quest is a cast of characters that includes his father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor), an extremely milquetoast-y scientist whose specialty is fish. His mother, Jill (Sally Hawkins), is a demoralized spouse who once wanted to be an actress but was told her tongue was too large for her mouth. Lloyd and Jill stopped having sex seven months ago.
Enter the new neighbor, the hypersexed, hippie-ish, spiritual guru Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine), who might just be up to seducing Jill in his very groovy van.
Oh, no! Can Oliver save his parents' marriage while losing his virginity to the love of his life, Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a tough cookie of a classmate who suffers from occasional bouts of eczema and likes unromantic settings? Will setting off little fires bring them together?
A richly developed character study that's splendidly written and visually inspired, plus sublimely edited by Nick Fenton and Chris Dickens, Submarine deftly sends up its protagonists while never demeaning them. It's a whimsical love letter to adolescent inadequacy and the overcoming thereof, one that might be backed up by the anonymous quote, “Raising teenagers is like nailing Jell-o to a tree." - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Queer Theater" and "Intro to Mass Communications" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).