We caught Submarine for the first time back in April, when it was in the midst of its epic run at the Cornerhouse (due to popular demand, it screened for what felt like months). In many ways it was the ideal Friday night film – it made us laugh a lot, and it was very, very sweet. We came away with an extremely positive impression of it. Released on DVD this week, we sat down to it for a second time at a friend’s inaugural film club event, and enjoyed it all over again. That said, amongst the seemingly universal praise, few seem to have picked upon its faults. Which is why we’ve created this list of them: to add to the critical debate, and bring a little bit of perspective to the party. If you haven’t seen it yet, be warned that the following contain spoilers.
1. It has nothing new to say about adolescence.
Firstly, it’s worth pointing out that Submarine nails its depiction of high school, and Oliver Tate is a thoroughly convincing adolescent creation (although it is also worth pointing out that the object of his affections, Jordana Bevan, is little more than a cipher). Still, the film quickly feels familiar, in terms of the events that unfold and the way characters react to them. At no point does it bring anything new or unique to the table, something which great films always manage to do.
2. It is completely devoid of subtext.
To wit: every single thought and feeling that crosses Oliver’s mind is expressed, usually in quite a bit of detail. Indeed, the narration he provides throughout the film is the surest sign that Submarine was adapted from a novel. However, what works perfectly on the page doesn’t always translate well to the screen, and the film would’ve benefited from adhering a little closer to the principle of “show, don’t tell.”
3. Its ending is unearned.
For the first hour of Submarine, it really is hard to find fault. From the brilliantly executed opening scene of Oliver imagining, with glorious hyperbole, the reaction to his own death, it is consistently laugh out loud funny for a solid sixty minutes, and charming without being too cutesy. However, for the last half an hour it wants us to take its characters and their problems much more seriously. Which is fine, but given that we’ve spent so long viewing the Oliver-Jordana coupling as fodder for humour, the shift in tone is somewhat jarring. And when the ending ties everything up neatly, it feels either a) rushed or b) just wrong plain: during the final third of the film, two relationships are dealt blows that, in a majority of cases, would probably prove fatal, yet both end up stronger than they were to begin with. Much of Submarine feels genuine and honest, but the conclusion certainly doesn’t. In this case, an extra 10 minutes may well have made all the difference.
4. One of its key characters is nothing more than a punchline.
Yes, new age guru Graham is hilarious, and very ably played by Paddy Considine. But he’s funny in a guilty pleasure sort of way, like leaving an episode of Little Britain on and finding yourself laughing at it, before immediately feeling embarrassed for having done so. Graham is one of the film’s most important dramatic devices, and yet he’s not a character, he’s a caricature. He’s not recognisably human, and that has to be considered a failing.
All that being said, in our eyes it’s definitely a four star film. So if you haven’t seen it but you’ve read this list anyway, don’t be too dissuaded: we still heartily recommend that you watch it.