There has been much hype and even more hope put into Richard Ayoade's début in the director's seat. Already one of the most likeable comedy actors working in Britain, with much loved turns in the brilliant IT Crowd and featuring brilliant cameos in The Mighty Boosh plus its unofficial companion film, 2009's, mind-boggling cooky, Bunny and the Bull.
Upon hearing he was making Submarine - adapted from Joe Dunthrone's novel of the same name - I was actually expecting a film in the similar kind of vein to the aforementioned projects, but what we actually got was so much more meaningful. The film tells the quirky but extremely sincere tale of troubled teenager, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) who is perhaps far too self-aware of pretty much everything around him from his social status, his parents' sex life, his own attractions to the opposite sex and overly stressing about the 'ninjas' living next door.
Visually it was just an absolute joy to behold on screen, likely to draw comparisons to Wes Anderson's best work with its warm, colourful, folky, geek chic imagery on top of a mundane Welsh coastal town. What Ayoade does brilliantly with the 80s setting is not letting himself get too bogged down on the cliches of the era that a lot of this generation of comedians tend to do in their acts and general televised works.
However, the film's main draw is the fantastically neurotic performance of Craig Roberts. It's strange to put Roberts contribution into words, I could lazily say he's just a young 'British Woody Allen' circa Manhattan/Annie Hall but in reality he's probably not quite as off the wall as that or even as mentally disturbed. Heaven forbid, he's essentially just an awkward teenager with an overly active imagination and tendencies towards over-thinking a simplistic situation - qualities that hit home more than once, with the best of us.
Similarly Yasmin Paige as the erratic, attention seeking love interest, Jordana proved perfect folly to Roberts' eccentric tendencies, but was quite heart-warming to see how she was, once the barriers were broken down to reveal a more tender, emotional side. Their chemistry was perfectly natural while their witty exchanges were beautifully poised by Ayoade's great screenplay.
Special praise must also go to the supporting performances from the more seasoned presences of independent cinema, such as the beautiful, Sally Hawkins as Oliver's tightly wound, emotionally suppressed mother. Or Wes Anderson stalwart, Noah Taylor as the boy's father. Then of course the excellent bit part role contributed by Paddy Considine as this bizarre psychic, motivational speak, come near-adulterer, whose comic timing is such an under-rated aspect of his acting, when compared to his most famous role in Dead Man's Shoes.
Unfortunately the film does lose a bit of its eccentric, upbeat, edge during the more solemn and reflective final act. And the overly indie sounds of The Arctic Monkeys' frontman Alex Turner do get a bit bland at times, nevertheless it never truly spoil the beautiful, heart-warming visualisations, Richard Ayoade gave the audience on the cinema screen.
Some casual viewers will find it just delightfully quirky, some might even find it just plain strange and that's perfectly fine. Everyone else will see a beautifully crafted and outrageously funny film about the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Craig Roberts is a comedy revelation, and I sincerely hope he goes from strength to strength off the back of this breakthrough performance. This could well be in my top 10 list by the end of the year.
Submarine is in selected cinemas from March 18th 2011. Belfast audiences, it will be showing in the Queen's Film Theatre and don't dare miss it!