Richard Ayoade is best known to most of us mere mortals as Moss from The IT Crowd; that hit and miss Channel 4 sitcom. Well, on the evidence of Submarine he’s been using the cover of a comedy actor to develop his skills behind the lens and here he delivers a wonderfully sweet and evocative exploration of first love, without the seemingly requisite clichés. Ayoade’s eye is not just for the picture, he also adapted the novel into a balanced screenplay, complete with the sort of frame narration that Shawshank Redemption and American Beauty would be proud of. All in all it’s an immense accomplishment.
Craig Roberts’ central turn is revelatory and it is clear that he has many fine performances ahead of him. So often in films focused on a teenage with less than impressive social skills the result can be a little disconnected (see James Frecheville’s turn in Animal Kingdom for further details), but not here. Roberts is by turns funny and disturbing but always very human. Sally Hawkins and Paddy Considine add much to their reputation for supporting roles in, well, supporting roles. The whole cast take a fairly low percentage of the credit through the film, seemingly being happy to allow Ayoade to run away with his imagination.
And it’s here that the film falls short. The cinematography, whilst remarkably beautiful for the miserably grey Welsh landscape, is reminiscent of too many student films in its unfocused style. At times I found myself wanting to shout through the screen and say ‘Slow down Richard! You’re making a movie, not a showreel!’ The choice to slip between film stocks, alter the colour grades in different sections, flitter between handheld, elaborate dolly shots and sitcom-esque zooms might seem like a petty criticism but really it is the only thing that prevents this extremely accomplished debut feature from being a British masterpiece.
As excitable as its randy young lead, Ayoade reveals himself to be as affecting a talent off screen as he is on.