TEENAGERS ARE JERKS. Teenaged boys, especially, and in Submarine, the precocious Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) has a few moments of supreme, unparalleled assholery.
Sure, he's got some good excuses: His dad (Noah Taylor! With a beard!) is depressed. His mom might be having an affair with a van-driving self-help guru. And Oliver has been trying on identities like other, shallower kids search for the perfect pair of jeans. But Submarine never quite lets Oliver off the hook for the shitty things he does—because if you don't suffer from your mistakes, you never really learn from them, and Oliver has plenty to learn.
Oliver spends his days imagining himself the star of a documentary about his own life (his "direction" provides the film's structure) and obsessing over a classmate, Jordana (Yasmin Paige), an appealingly mean little thing whose favor Oliver curries by joining in on bullying a former friend. (This only foreshadows the assholery to come.) When he finally lands the girl, though, his worries about his parents' marriage blinds Oliver to what Jordana really needs from him, as the reality of maintaining a relationship proves far messier and more challenging than Oliver expects.
Director Richard Ayoade is best known for his acting work as buttoned-down Moss on The IT Crowd—though Submarine's humor is more quirky-indie than wacky-British. But Ayoade's directorial style deftly synthesizes film, music, and photography, lending the film considerable vitality even as its subject matter trends ever darker.
To say Submarine is reminiscent of films like Rushmore and Harold and Maude is no insult—those movies are great, and Submarine wears its influences proudly. But at the same time, Submarine is a coming-of-age story that's perfectly its own. Some high school films are genre pleasures, fun for what they are (see our review of this week's other YA flick The Art of Getting By), but Submarine transcends its well-worn genre with heart, energy, and style.