Archive for Submarine

The Influence of Anxiety

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2015 by dcairns


Fiona was WILDLY enthusiastic about Richard Ayoade’s THE DOUBLE. I wasn’t quite sure if I was or not. I really like his first feature, SUBMARINE. But, just as the overt HAROLD AND MAUDE stylistic references in that film, while appropriate, don’t really help it secure its own standalone identity, the complex filmography of influences that make up THE DOUBLE sometimes made it seem to me like it was Frankenstein’s quilt or something.

BRAZIL hangs heavy over the film, although Ayoade and his team haven’t really borrowed anything specific — office cubicles are now such a universal workplace phenomenon as to be inescapable. The dystopian vision of bureaucracy comes straight from Dostoevsky’s literary source, and the only point of connection is that Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine have chosen to set their film neither in 19th century Russia nor modern Britain, but in a non-geographic fantasy conurbation mingling British and American (and Australian) accents, with a muted colour palette and a lot of retro stylings. Once you accept this similarity of approach, you won’t find many particular points of connection.


The movie manages to fold both Wilder’s THE APARTMENT and Polanski’s THE TENANT into its narrative. The titles of those films suggest an affinity, but they are in fact pretty different. The latter choice is intriguing because Polanski tried to adapt THE DOUBLE himself, only for star John Travolta to pull out over qualms about nudity — Steve Martin quickly stepped in as a replacement, at which point leading lady Isabelle Adjani (who was also in THE TENANT) fled, and the whole house of cards collapsed. Ayoade definitely isn’t setting out to make the film Polanski would have aimed for, but a recurring death leap, viewed from an opposing window, seems to have been transplanted almost intact from Polanski.

There’s business with an apartment key used to facilitate sexual liaisons — this is the APARTMENT connection. Ironic given Billy Wilder’s crude put-down — asked if he was going to see ROSEMARY’S BABY, he replied, “I wouldn’t touch it with a five-foot Pole.”

In resolving the story, a bit of FIGHT CLUB seems to have crept in — not anything specific, just a sense of “How can we make this dark yet somehow upbeat?”


Fiona howled at this shot, though: “It’s his signature image — a woman staring balefully over food! It gets me every time!”

The casting is great, if possibly too on-the-nose? Jesse Eisenberg can embody a hapless nerd in his sleep, after all. It’s when he shows up as his nasty doppelganger that the film lifts off, with a new kind of energy powering it. The horror of the completely confident man. The trouble is, this is a Zuckerberg cut in two, so both the lovelorn nebbish and the blank-eyed sociopath are slightly familiar perfs.

Mia Wasiskowski can do no wrong. It’s lovely seeing Craig Roberts and Yasmin Page (and indeed Noah Taylor), the stars of SUBMARINE again. Wallace Shawn is a bit typecast, James Fox is a big tease, it’s interesting seeing comedy people Chris Morris and Tim Key, though there’s the risk of Guest Star Syndrome setting in. But both justify their appearances by being remarkable. And Cathy Moriarty!

The Japanese pop songs are the one rogue element — you can’t pin down any specific reference that’s being made — they just add to the alien atmosphere and provide something jaunty amid the bleakness. I liked them all and would like to own the soundtrack.


Also, the film is brilliantly cut. The images sizzle against one another. This isn’t just a technical compliment, as in, “The editor has a good sense of timing/drama/comedy.” The shots are designed beautifully so that they smack together in a way that feels striking and genuinely original. Based on this alone, I’m prepared to call Ayoade one of our best and most exciting filmmakers, even if I can’t quite decide what I think of this film, a hesitation that would surely disqualify me from broadsheet film reviewing (although I get the impression some of those guys didn’t know what to make of THE DOUBLE either).


Sidenote: I recently asked Richard Ayoade to be in a film I plan to make and he was nice, considered it, and then respectfully declined. Now his agency is helping us find an alternative. Am I resentful of Ayoade for spurning me? Am I grateful to him for considering me? Which version of Jesse Eisenberg am I behaving like? Who am I?


Deep Down

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on March 25, 2011 by dcairns

Richard Ayoade’s SUBMARINE, adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel, could serve as an object lesson in many things — how to make an effective transition from TV and music promos (the director is a star of the sitcom The IT Crowd), how to make a British coming-of-age story, how to make a recent period movie and avoid time-capsule pastiche and nostalgia, how to handle a character who isn’t conventionally sympathetic — i.e. who isn’t RIGHT about a lot of things — and still preserve audience sympathy… but the angle I’d like to lavish most praise on is the absorption of influence.

SUBMARINE (it’s not a 1930 Jack Holt adventure film, the title is merely allusive to the submerged feeling that comes with depression) wears its influences on its sleeve, with a boldness alibi’d by the conceit of protag Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, with his Bud Cort gimlet eyes) continually imagining himself as the star of a movie. Ayoade throws in Scorsese flashbulb freeze-frames, HAROLD AND MAUDE sidelong glances, a DON’T LOOK NOW red hood mistaken identity, Godardian typography… importantly, the pleasure of the film is enhanced by recognition of the sources — somebody who’d never seen a pre-1980 movie could still enjoy this unhindered, but getting where the ideas are borrowed from is an additional pleasure rather than a source of irritation. At least for me.

Crucial to this is that the devices all perform narrative / dramatic / emotional / poetic functions, rather than just being nods in the direction of classics to whose status the film aspires (as in the cargo cult filmmaking of the Tarantino clone). When Ayoade performs a slow zoom into a bowl of lumpy school custard, he evokes the misery of a British comprehensive school education with Proustian immediacy — but if you recognize it as a riff on Scorsese’s alka-seltzer zoom in TAXI DRIVER, there’s an additional laugh.

(Although, my own school’s custard erred on the side of fluidity, being essentially a yellow milk sealed beneath a viscous, rubbery skin thick enough to support the weight of a 2nd year pupil.)

This movie really gets school — the inescapable universal bullying and homophobia. I mean, I love GREGORY’S GIRL, but neither Fiona or I recognize it as in any major way an accurate depiction of the school system. Everybody’s so nice. As with a good period movie set anytime before the twentieth century, a school movie has to start from the premise, surely, that even the finest people are going to be absolutely ghastly at times by any civilized standard.

Yasmin Paige is both beautiful and real as the protag’s far-from-perfect “love interest” (a weak expression for teenage passion, that) and succeeds in a role at first sight even less overtly sympathetic than the hero’s. The young actors are supported by adults with intense and original comedy chops — Sally Hawkins (sporting a disfiguring hairdo apparently modeled on Wendy Craig’s look in the 70s/80s sitcom Butterflies), Noah Taylor, Paddy Considine (astonishing low-key physical comedy here). Very wisely, the film avoids stuffing the cast with the filmmaker’s famous chums (that actually works in SHAUN OF THE DEAD and HOT FUZZ, but is generally something to be avoided at all costs). Exec producer Ben Stiller does pop up in heavy disguise on a TV set.

By the way, speaking as one whose response to the trailer for Mike Leigh’s HAPPY GO LUCKY was to wish for access to a red button that would bring human life to a swift and merciful end, the time may have come for me to admit that Sally Hawkins is a welcome and useful addition to the bestiary of British acting talent.

How will the young stars do in future? In particular, how will Craig Roberts cope with the fact that he has already, at aged 19, uttered the line he was born to say?

“My mum gave a hand-job to a mystic.”

Fiona’s favourite shot — “staring at him balefully over a fantastically baroque prawn cocktail. I was the only one laughing at that.”