‘Submarine’: Coming-of-age tale gets too self-conscious

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, June 10, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

If it weren’t as self-conscious as its protagonist, “Submarine” might stand a chance at being a better coming-of-age picture.

Yes, we’re used to seeing movies about winsome, self-aware teenagers facing life’s challenges. But director Richard Ayoade can’t stop reminding us about how clever his

movie is about it all.

The smart kid in question is Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old misfit who lives in Swansea, Wales. He wears his hair like Bud Cort in “Harold and Maude,” listens to Serge Gainsbourg LPs, and fantasizes about how despondent his classmates would be if he died suddenly.

Actually, they probably wouldn’t notice him missing. But his fantasies are like that, and another one involves the mostly expressionless Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a classmate Oliver would very much like to get close to.

Oliver isn’t a particularly vivid character, given his narrator status and his collection of random quirks. Jordana, however, is refreshingly peculiar as a love interest: She’s not charming, has little actual interest in Oliver and seems touched by pyromania.

We also get to know Oliver’s parents, a great source of anxiety to him because of their passionless marriage; two marvelous actors inhabit these roles. Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”) is the mother, and the eccentric Noah Taylor (“Max”) is the father, a bearded marine biologist with an awkward approach to speaking with his son about life’s realities.

Oliver fears his mother is in dangerous proximity to an old flame, now a self-styled motivational guru (Paddy Considine). And it’s true, this guy is what passes for a slick act in Swansea.

All of these elements make for an enjoyable-enough cruise through the coming-of-age realm, with moody seacoast photography thrown in for a bit of briny flavor.

“Submarine” isn’t dumb, although Ayoade (adapting a novel by Joe Dunthorne) has a tendency to lean a little too heavily on the example of “Rushmore” director Wes Anderson.

But by the time Oliver admitted his fondness for “The Catcher in the Rye,” I was beginning to lose patience. Every new generation has the right to its own coming-of-age pictures, absolutely. The least we could do is honor their own cultural-literary touchstones, instead of reaching back 60 years for the usual suspects.

“Submarine” ½

A coming-of-age tale about a 15-year-old Welsh kid who worries almost as much about his parents’ deep-freeze marriage as about his own chances with a pretty, expressionless classmate. Enjoyable enough to watch, but it gets a little too self-consciously quirky for its own good.

Rated: R for language, subject matter

Showing: Seven Gables

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