We’ve all seen coming-of-age stories—plenty of them—so when a new one comes along that seems fresh and novel, that’s reason to cheer. The new British import Submarine is just such a film, based on a prize-winning novel by Joe Dunthorne about a precocious boy growing up in Wales. The two young leads are new to us in the States, but they’re joined by top-tier talent from the adult ranks. The result is a disarming comic tale about growing pains.
Craig Roberts plays Oliver Tate, a smart, self-aware 15 year old boy who conscientiously documents his life and narrates the story. His parents, played in hilarious deadpan fashion by Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins, are an extremely uptight couple whose marriage is strained, but they both have real concerns about their oddball son. Oliver, in turn, is concerned about his parents’ relationship, especially after an old flame of hers moves in across the street. (He’s played, in macho fashion, by another skilled performer, Paddy Considine.)
After mooning over her in school, Oliver wins over Jordana (Yasmin Paige), though she’s also an iconoclast whose ideas often clash with Oliver’s, especially when it comes to the nature of their friendship.
Anyone who remembers stumbling through adolescence feeling like an outsider should relate to Submarine, written and directed with simpatico and understated humor by Richard Ayoade, a music-video and television director making his feature debut. (He also adapted the screenplay.) His leading actors hit just the right notes in this likable, low-key comedy that’s naturally funny without stressing gags or set-pieces. It has all the earmarks of a sleeper, and I hope it finds the audience it deserves.