Teenage oddball Oliver Tate (Roberts) isn't an unreliable narrator so much as an immodest one: Despite his sexual experience being limited to a few awkward kisses, this misfit is convinced he has street cred to burn, cooking up elaborate schemes to elevate his place in the high-school pecking order. Job one is losing his virginity---preferably to his classmate Jordana (Paige), whose idea of intimacy is burning off his leg hair with matches. A chronic overthinker (he describes a first smooch with his dream girl as tasting like "milk, Polo mints and Dunhill International"), Oliver is alternately perspicacious and painfully wide of the mark. He does correctly sense, however, that romance is brewing between his dissatisfied mother (Hawkins) and an old flame (Considine), now an aspiring New Age guru. But as his parents' marriage founders and the lad's own nascent love affair blooms, Oliver's adolescent fumbles have real consequences, an unexpected codicil of the adulthood he's long sought.
Richard Ayoade's first feature is too harsh and melancholy to be called nostalgic, but it feels as if it's filmed through a hazy curtain of misty-eyed memories. A British comedy veteran best known as the stiffer of two tech geeks on The IT Crowd, the writer-director makes no effort to hide his, or Oliver's, influences; forbears from the nouvelle vague to Wes Anderson are palpably present. But it's hard to think of another film that's so true to the minor catastrophes of the formative years while showing so little interest in mere realism. The balancing act between self-awareness and sentiment is a dangerous one, yet Ayoade never puts a foot wrong. Submarine may not be epic cinema, but in a modest way, it's close to perfection.
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