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Submarine: Dark Coming of Age Comedy
Oliver’s (Roberts) life is not going well. He gets bullied at school and his parents’ marriage is breaking up due to the re-appearance of his mother’s ex-boyfriend and his father's depression. He plans to get Jordana (Paige) to date him as a way of increasing his social capital at school. Submarine traces the parallels between Oliver’s relationship with Jordana and his parents’ relationship; all told from Oliver’s point of view.
As it’s Oliver’s story, we get to know him much more than we get to know Jordana, but at the same time; what the viewer knows about Jordana is exactly what Oliver knows about her. He has an image in his head of the perfect girlfriend that he’s projected onto her. As a result, she comes across at first as a series of quirks until they break up and then Oliver can no longer project his fantasies onto her.
The characters are fabulous and this is only amplified by the set design. You find yourself staring at the posters on the walls, at the record sleeves and the books around the characters; trying to find out more about these people. And these details tell a lot. For example, at one point, Oliver has a Woody Allen print on his wall. He also listens to Serge Gainsbourg and reads Shakespeare, Nietzsche and most tellingly, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Jordana has a pair of Lolita glasses.
The film is just so cohesive; everything fits together perfectly. The editing style could come off as showy for the sake of it in another film; but here it really adds to the story. The fade to blacks were frequently replaced by fade to reds or blues depending on the character that the film was following at the time; red for Jordana, blue for Oliver. In addition, the image was frequently frozen in time with only the camera panning out. This usually happened during profound moments in Oliver’s life, allowing him to brood on the moment via voice-over.
The scene where Oliver offers Jordana some of his favourite books so they can cultivate common interests is highly reminiscent of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, when Alvy tries to ‘educate’ Annie by making her more like him. In fact the whole film is rather reminiscent of Annie Hall. Oliver is cut from the same cloth as Woody Allen’s neurotic, antisocial persona. He lives in a fantasy world guided by his notions of what makes a perfect boyfriend and a happy family. He’s rather self-absorbed in a way and yet his actions come across as reactions to his fears; fear of the bullying at school getting worse and fear of his family falling apart due to his mother’s possible affair.
This is a fantastic film with an even better soundtrack, courtesy of Arctic Monkeys’ frontman Alex Turner. It brings to mind classics such as Annie Hall and The Catcher in the Rye while never coming across as an uninspired carbon-copy of these films. Submarine holds its weight as a great film in its own right with a great British cast.
He promptly charms the somewhat cynical principal Ms. Vaillancourt (Proulx), who at first is a little hesitant to his slightly mystical presence, and soon takes over the 'broken' classroom. The film’s heart also lies with the two students who were unfortunate enough to discover the body. Alice (Nélisse) is a bright-eyed, straight A student, who deals with her own troubles of an absent parent on daily basis. The tender-looking Simon (Néron) suffers a level of guilt for his teacher's demise and is a problematic student as a result.
The task at hand is one of many challenges for M. Lazhar. Nevertheless, with his own personal suffering set aside, its details slowly unravel throughout the film; he takes the kids under his caring wing and slowly starts guiding them to the truth.
Fellag's interpretation of M. Lazhar is a delightful surprise. Though slightly old-fashioned in his teaching methods, trying to get to grips on a modernised education system, Lazhar is portrayed as loyal and caring. From beginning to end, we are embraced with his warmth and affection. The same can be said for the outstanding performances by both child actors, Alice and Simon. The level of maturity and the profound strength they bring to their roles is nothing short of mesmerising.
Based on writer Alan Bennett’s 1989 memoir, the ‘mostly true’ story of one Margaret Shepherd - an eccentric homeless woman who back in the mid-70’s decided to set up camp in Bennett’s North London driveway and stay there for fifteen years - is beautifully told in Nicholas Hytner’s The Lady in the Van; a humorous and touching tale of an unusual friendship brought to life by an engaging script and one deliciously weird and quirky performance by the forever-great Dame Maggie Smith.
Adapted to the screen by Bennett himself – his story was initially turned into a book back in 1989 before taking up stage in London’s West End in 1999 - The Lady in the Van begins by introducing Alan Bennett (Jennings); a witty, dry and a seemingly withdrawn playwright who has just moved in to his new home in Camden, London. Thanks to camera trickery, there are two versions of the writer to be witnessed here; one is Bennett the man – a shy and a reserved fellow who deals with the outside world – and Bennett the writer; someone who sits, writes and complains about the lack of intrigue and excitement in their somewhat boring and complicated co-existence.
Things take an interesting turn with the appearance of Miss. Shepherd (Smith); a strange, smelly and a particularly single-minded drifter who lives out of the back of a van. After not being able to park her van out on the street anymore, Miss. Shepherd – whose unconventional characteristics have already ignited an interest in the writer – turns to Bennett for help. Taking pity on the poor old lady, he soon agrees for her to temporarily use his driveway which, as it turns out, she stayed on for fifteen years.
It’s easy to recognise The Lady in the Van’s theatrical roots with the movie bearing a somewhat of an artificial and at times, a distractingly stagey feel. However, that should not pose as a problem with the magnificent Maggie Smith at play, whose performance is so engaging that it’s easy to forgive the film’s tiny drawbacks. Reprising her acclaimed stage performance, Smith is absolutely superb as the wandering oldster whose mysterious past involving a hit-and-run – something that serves as the major subplot in the story – has led her to where she is today. Her interaction with Bennett – a pleasantly reliable Jennings - is where the story’s heart lies and it’s his never-ending curiosity about his particularly strange squatter that ends up slowly unravelling the mystery behind her suffering existence.
Staying clear of unnecessary melodrama and over-sentimentalising its subject, The Lady in the Van is all about Smith’s turn and, while its peculiar set up may not appeal to everyone’s taste, it’s hard to imagine anyone not being taken in by this 80 year old actress’ immense talent and her incredible ability of commanding the screen.