The protagonist of the coming-of-age comedy Submarine, 15-year-old Oliver (Craig Roberts), is much more eloquent than most kids his age (he reads the dictionary for fun), is obsessed with film and is trying to save the dying marriage of his boring parents (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins). Mostly, though, he’s just preoccupied with sex.
Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine marks the debut of director Richard Ayoade, whose sensibility could be characterized as that of a British Wes Anderson minus the humor and wit. The movie uses title cards and voice-over narration and occasionally lands a funny gag — Dad is such a lump he tells Oliver what his Christmas present is just as he’s about to unwrap it.
The main problem with Submarine is that Oliver is not a likable protagonist. The boy is trying to find his identity while lusting after Jordana (Yasmin Paige), whose main characteristic is a fondness for “light arson.” But Oliver’s constant, ironic commentary about the events in his life, combined with a less-than-charming performance by Roberts, render the him irritating. Rarely have I cared less about whether or not a romantic couple will end up together.
The most interesting plot strand in Submarine involves Oliver’s suspicion that his mother is having an affair with her ex-boyfriend (Paddy Considine), a motivational speaker who tools around in a ridiculously painted van. In those scenes, Submarine captures the way adolescents, with their lack of life experience, can sometimes misinterpret the world around them. But the rest of Submarine plays like an oppressively quirky comedy that might have worked as a novel but comes off as an affected, overly clever contraption that doesn’t contain a single moment that rings true.
Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine, Steffan Rhodri, Sally Hawkins.
Writer-director: Richard Ayoade. Based on the novel by Joe Dunthorne.
Producer: Mary Burke.
A Weinstein Co. release. Running time: 97 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Opens Friday June 17 in Miami-Dade only: Regal South Beach.