Movie review in the Friday, June 17 Oregonian....
"Submarine" pulls off a nice little feat: It's a reference-heavy coming-of-age indie flick that feels fresh despite being, well, a reference-heavy coming-of-age indie flick.
This is largely thanks to the dexterity of writer/director Richard Ayoade (best-known as an actor on "The IT Crowd" and "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace"), who adapts a novel by Joe Dunthorne. The film is a fictional "memoir" about the too-clever-for-his-own-good Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) -- a kid blessed with Bud Cort's "Harold and Maude" mien and several dark stylistic affectations, of which he is amusingly self-aware.
The movie charts Oliver's disastrous attempts at social engineering during his adolescence in Wales. This includes wooing a dark-hearted classmate (Yasmin Paige) who might as well have been drawn by Edward Gorey. It's an increasingly demanding courtship that competes with Oliver's other big campaign: saving the marriage of his neurotic parents (Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor) from the mulleted New Age twit living down the hill (Paddy Considine).
"Submarine" wears its influences proudly -- vibe-checking everything from Anderson to Nichols to the French New Wave -- but it never feels burdened by its references. The movie probably starts a bit stronger than it ends, but Ayoade's direction consistently charms by carefully balancing the arch and the humane -- he gets performances out of his cast that somehow manage to be both deadpan-comic and oddly moving. And I loved the way Ayoade used special effects, sharp edits, and Super-8 montage to capture peak moments of adolescent love, longing and horror -- freezing emotions like 20-year-old memories. This is Ayoade's feature debut, and it's fairly stunning.
(97 min., rated R, playing in Portland at the Fox Tower) Grade: B-plus
'Submarine' (The Oregonian, Friday, June 17, 2011)