Thursday, June 02, 2011

Submarine: Such a Sensitive Welsh Lad

At least Oliver Tate does not refer to himself in the third person. Though he fancies himself the worldly sophisticate of his class, the Welsh lad has a lot of growing up to do in Richard Ayoade’s coming-of-age dramedy Submarine (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It is clear by the way Tate’s overcoat is buttoned up just so, he is obviously a sensitive diamond in the rough, who just needs that right relationship to bring him out of his shell. Fortunately, he has a candidate in mind, the only slightly gothy Jordana Bevan, whom he courts by bullying Zoe Preece, an overweight classmate. Not exactly a meet-cute, but to Tate’s limited credit, he feels bad enough about the incident to write his victim a lengthy treatise on self-empowerment.

Just as things start getting real with Bevan, Tate finds his parents’ marriage jeopardized by the perfect storm of his father’s extreme emotional reserve, his mother’s burgeoning dissatisfaction, and the lecherous attention of a low rent self-help guru. Tate is bound and determined to win Bevan’s heart and keep his parents together. However, he is in for a bit of a humbling in the process.

Tate is supposed to be an endearing young egg-head. Yet as a massively self-absorbed, compulsive manifesto writer, he seems to be one stinging public humiliation away from becoming Ted Kaczynski. Though Craig Roberts’ sad eyed shtick gets tiresome, he deserves credit for handling the self-consciously wordy dialogue and narration with a fair degree of snappiness.

Arguably, the real find of Submarine is Yasmin Paige, who is thoroughly believable as Bevan, even when falling for Tate. Indeed, she finds some interesting places in the Daria-ish character. As Mother Tate, Sally Hawkins again scratches out what she can in a largely thankless (bordering on shrewish) role. Still, Noah Taylor makes a stronger impression, expressing genuine pathos as her painfully withdrawn husband.

In truth, there are a number of clever bits in Submarine and the dynamics between the kids consistently ring true. Ayoade helms the familiar Rushmore material with quite a bit of style, while executive producer Ben Stiller also serves as the above-the-title “presenter” because folks have heard of him. Nevertheless, the film is frequently undermined by its tendency to preen in its preciousness. Frankly, even little old ladies would want to beat up Tate for his milk money. Not nearly as adorable as it thinks it is, Submarine opens tomorrow (6/3) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.