Submarine is a jaunty coming-of-age comedy set in Swansea, Wales, in the Neolithic era of the 1980s. It charts the course of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) as the 15-year-old surfaces from the acute self-consciousness of adolescence to a new awareness of family and schoolmates.
The mop-topped central figure of Richard Ayoade's feature debut resembles the young John Lennon and narrates his story like a Welsh Holden Caulfield. Despite these intentional references, Oliver emerges as a character who is both unique and universal. His narration has the scent of milk, breath mints, and stolen cigarettes, which is more or less how Oliver describes the taste of his first kiss.
Like most 15-year-olds before and since, Oliver is obsexed. He has two immediate goals: (1) to lose his virginity, preferably to Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a pretty brunette with bangs and an attitude; (2) to get his parents, Jill (Sally Hawkins) and Lloyd (Noah Taylor), to rekindle their love.
Worried that Jill is intrigued by her old flame, a new-age guru played by the mullet-haired Paddy Considine, Oliver forges love letters from Mum to Dad.
Ayoade, one of the technogeeks on The IT Crowd, frames Oliver looking straight into the camera lens as though it were a mirror. This underscores the sense that Oliver sees himself as the star of his own movie, center of the universe.
The film's humor comes in part from the gap between what Oliver says and what the audience sees.
And also from the fact that it's an unassuming movie about an unapologetic narcissist. For an unreliable narrator, Oliver's story is reliably entertaining.