"Submarine" treads some familiar ground. When the film's main character Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a mixed up Welsh youngster with a Beatles haircut, starts courting his sexy/sulky classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige), we know he'll screw it up by Act III, and have to make amends by the fadeout. And at some point along the way he'll come of age. It's like the blueprint for every romantic comedy ever made, and with the added touch of adult lessons learned the script seems stolen from the stacks dropped off at Michael Cera's house daily. Yet "Submarine" is playfully vivacious and even unique despite its narrative banality. Directed by British first-timer Richard Ayoade and produced mostly in Wales, the movie has a filmic self-knowingness and an Indie-Rock aesthetic that feels European in its construction and Hollywood quirky in its execution. The result is something like a Michael Cera movie directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
The specks of New Wave confetti fall right as rain throughout the film's cloudy Welsh landscape -- a place where the sun stays screened all year by sheets of grey precipitation and the smog rising from coal factory spouts. Oliver Tate's small town is surrounded by beach, but you wouldn't dare swim in the freezing water; as he trudged across the sand to meet his beloved Jordana I thought a freeze frame like Truffaut's on Jean-Pierre Leaud in The 400 Blows was imminent. On top of New Wave homage the film employs a perpetual voice-over that has the snarky ambivalence and charming naivete of Juno or Youth In Revolt's Nick Twisp. Like the adolescent drama-queen he is, Oliver fantasizes about his own death and smirks at the displeasure it would cause distraught, love-struck coeds. Only an egotistical, delusional and dejected teenager would find solace in such morbid contemplation. But these psychological tactics make Oliver Tate relatable, interesting and incredibly funny. He's also not a mere sulker. He's a sourpuss with a lot on his mind; he's got goals. To impress Jordana -- the class spitfire -- he bullies another student, overweight outcast Zoe Priest, even though it crosses his moral boundaries. When their "big night" arrives, Oliver sets the romantic stage with elan for the "passionate lovemaking" that'll be his V-card disposal session. Things get more complicated when his parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor's) marriage hits the skids -- due to his mother's infatuation with the mystic next door (Paddy Considine). Oliver devises a scheme to remedy the situation, and even finds a moment to puke on the hood of the home-wrecker's car.
However, like Clueless's Cher, Oliver Tate is the kid with all the answers and none of them all at once. When it comes time to be completely selfless and do something just for Jordana, he chickens out. It's a decision that reminds us just how much of a child Oliver still is. But the movie -- with its vignette structure, fades to red and blue, music video montages -- feels postmodern; it's a blending of cinematic qualities -- qualities that were hip when Godard did them in the 60's and ones that are hip now (like moments reminiscent of Cera and Kat Dennings cruising town to hipster, Indie-anthems in Nick and Nora). And despite a small lag in the homestretch, the effect is hyper, hip and pleasurable on the film's own light, idiosyncratic terms. We may have seen it all before, but with such verve this familiar teenage-odyssey feels less done-to-death than done right.