MIFF2011: Submarine aka The Hipstamatic Film
Watching SUBMARINE I was distinctly reminded of a Finnish filmmaker by the name of Kes Sanderson. Sanderson is best known for MUSHMORE & TOTTLE POCKET and it is very clear that SUBMARINE's director Richard Ayode was directly influenced by Sanderson. Of course those that make the Sanderson reference in discussing SUBMARINE are being a little lazy in my opinion. While SUBMARINE is an overtly derivative film (derivative/homage is a potatoe/potato discussion at this point), its roots are much deeper and more varied than Sanderson.
SUBMARINE is destined to be loved and hated in equal measure. First time director, Richard Ayode (best known to us all as Moss in The IT Crowd) has crafted, quite possibly, the definitive hipster film. I wince reading back over that sentence as it's horrifyingly reductive but it is also a simple fact. One cannot set a film in the early 80s, jam it with nostalgic details such as mix tapes and VHS, and even include a super 8 falling in love montage where the lovers ride around on a fixie holding flares up in the air (savvy kids will note that this sequence looks just like the hipstamatic function on your iphone!) and not be willing to bear those accusations.
Ayode is clearly a lover of film and his excitable style is all over SUBMARINE as it often feels more like a homage to cinema in general than a fully realised film in and of itself. Countless little stylistic affectations are strewn throughout the film that less define a singular aesthetic and more point out that Ayode is just excited to be playing with these cinematic tools. Essentially Ayode filters his film though a classic first-love, coming of age formula and then throws in moments of Scorsese, Truffaut, Kubrick, Lindsay Anderson, P.T Anderson... basically all the Anderson named directors.
I don't mean to be snarky so I should note that I really enjoyed quite a bit of SUBMARINE. Ayode has a great comic sensibility and much of the humour is fantastic. From the film's little meta jokes (“we couldn't afford a crane so we settled for a zoom”) to Noah Taylor's truly inspired take on fatherhood (his man-to-man talk with his son was truly hilarious), there is much to love in SUBMARINE. The film has an infectious energy that is decidedly contagious and I can see right now many viewers will fall in love. I liked, I enjoyed, but I personally didn't love.
SUBMARINE isn't tonally coherent enough in the end. Ayode jumps around using so many different stylistic devices and forms of humour it makes one think of a saying that involves a kitchen sink. French New Wave one moment and broad British caricature comedy the next. It's fun but slightly jarring. Ayode is most definitely a talented filmmaker and I will eagerly anticipate his future work as SUBMARINE suffers from first time filmmaker syndrome just a little too much for my taste. It's a fun, small, coming of age film that signals the start of an exciting directorial career.