Inside every high schooler unspools the official film of their life. Or so says “Submarine,” a charming indie that combines dreamy aspiration with mucky, hilarious reality.
Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a glum 15-year-old in Wales who narrates his story as if the French New Wave version of it was about to start. Oliver isn’t sporty or cool, but he is clever, more in-tune than his parents (Sally Hawkins as a distracted mom, Noah Taylor as a dull marine biologist dad), and notices small changes.
Mostly, he loves Jordana (Yasmin Paige), the cute-but-tough classmate who shares Oliver’s “mild outsider status.” If he can win Jordana, Oliver figures, the film of his life can end with a grand sweeping camera shot, instead of the “slow zoom-out” he believes it’s fated to be.
Based on a book by Joe Dunthorne, “Submarine,” full of depth and wit, sits squarely in the class of “Rushmore” and other tales of junior-section adults. Yet Richard Ayoade, in his feature debut, places the movie in an unspecified, kinda-late-’80s period, so its teenage romance brings to mind “Gregory’s Girl” and “My Life as a Dog.”
Its cast is right at home there. Roberts, who can resemble a worried middle-aged accountant, is terrific, and Paige works her wicked grin like a champ. A movie like this sinks or swims depending on its young cast. Good thing Roberts and Paige are ready for their closeups.