Genre: Comedy, Drama, Thriller
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Jesse Eisenberg, Chris O’Dowd, Gemma Chan
Assured but conventional, Richard Ayoade’s Submarine, his directorial debut, marked the comedic writer/actor as a talent worthy of keeping an eye on. Such directors are fascinating to watch as they develop their own unique style of filmmaking and Ayoade’s second film, an adaptation of Dostoevsky’s novella, is a bold and brave piece that brought Brighton’s superb 2013 Film Festival to a close.
Bathing his tale in unrelenting shades of beige & grey, Ayoade weaves his story slowly. We meet the mild-mannered Simon as he travels to work, where he is resolutely unappreciated by his boss and ignored by Hannah, the woman of his dreams. Out of work, Simon spends his evenings taking care of his terminally ill mother who gives him nothing but grief and sitting in his shabby bedsit staring across in to Hannah’s apartment, wishing she would notice him. Decidedly cautious about setting his story, the leisurely start almost threatens to derail the whole film. Ayoade’s prolonged scene setting borders on languorous and the more it goes on, the more it screams for an injection of excitement.
Mercifully, the tone changes dramatically with the arrival of James, a visual replica to Simon who embodies the confidence and charisma that Simon sorely lacks. Spending large portions of the film having to communicate with himself, Jesse Eisenberg’s chameleonic performance is astonishing to behold. Eisenberg masterly switches from the timidity of Simon to the magnetism of James with a striking conviction that lends great breadth to the growing hostility between the two characters.
What plays out is a well-observed study of isolation and insecurity, Ayoade’s script channeling great poignancy out of Eisenberg’s portrayal of Simon. The writer/director is admirably bold in his approach, embellishing the film with flavors of gothic horror and film noir. The dark, lonely sets that characterize Simon’s world are both foreboding and mysterious; the interiors shadowed like his personality, the exteriors covered in an unremitting mist. Ayoade’s hallucinatory visuals, mixed with Andrew Hewitt’s grand orchestral score, accentuate Simon’s frustration as his life is pulled further and further from his grasp.
Ayoade’s eye for balance in tone is commendable, the director drawing his story with well-grounded humor. The abundance of excellent supporting performers allow for many lighter moments, with an exceptionally well placed cameo from Ayoade’s friend Chris O’Dowd being particularly memorable.
Much like the man himself, Richard Ayoade’s second directorial effort is a weird and wonderful film that is both moving and witty. The painfully slow start may be too much of a turn off for some, but stick with it and you are rewarded with a sad and sweet story that’s held together with confident direction and an eye-opening central performance.