Submarine is yet another coming-of-age film, though it’s set in a comically askew version of Wales, which the opening credits remind us have not yet been invaded by the United States. Droll notes are the dominant theme of this very clever debut from director Richard Ayoade, whom true Anglophile TV viewers will know as Moss from The IT Crowd. But wacky performances more than match the million in-jokes that dot the film. Submarine stars the owl-eyed Noah Taylor as Oliver Tate, who looks like a cross between Bud Cort (Harold and Maude) and Malcolm MacDowell (If). Chock full of allusions to New Wave and other films (about 500 to The 400 Blows), the film whips between schoolboy-in-disgrace tales and a caricatured trek through Depression-land. It’s also very funny, in a surreal sort of way.
Taylor gets loads of help from his supporting cast, too. In particular the brilliant Sally Hawkins (Happy Go Lucky) as Oliver’s mother, whose ministrations toward her New Age geek former lover (Paddy Considine) revolt Oliver. Of all obvious film comparisons here, however, Submarine is best compared to Scottish director Bill Forsyth’s universe, where everything begins as comic cliché but inevitably is turned upside down. In one scene when Noah’s teacher attempts serious counseling time over an apparent flirtation with suicide, we see a pitch for kindness and humanity. Meanwhile Oliver’s classmates keep poking their faces in the window, cross-eyed with tongues stuck out. It’s a deep journey that keeps coming up for air.