The reviews for writer-director Richard Ayoade's dark, funny film Submarine have been overwhelmingly positive. Enough so that one would think the first-time feature filmmaker would be over the moon.
But while the introverted Brit, who is well-known to his countrymen as the geek genius Moss in the cult-TV comedy The IT Crowd, says he finds the accolades "pleasing," he admits he's "one of those people who find it very difficult not to focus on any negative.
"I tend to dwell on the people who dislike it," Ayoade says. "I prefer to do that in a self-lacerating way."
A quick check of the film website Rotten Tomatoes, however, proves Ayoade has little to self-flagellate about. The coming-of-age film about precocious, horny, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who's in the throes of puppy love while trying to save his parents' ailing marriage, has an impressive 90-per-cent approval rate on the site, which calls Ayoade "a talent to watch."
Submarine, which opens here on Friday, was also good enough to catch the eye of comedian Ben Stiller, who is its executive producer, and Harvey Weinstein, who picked up the film distribution rights after catching a screening at last year's Toronto International Film Festival.
"They've been incredibly helpful, especially in terms of bringing people's attention to it in America," Ayoade says. "They've been big advocates."
Based on the critically acclaimed novel by Joe Dunthorne, Submarine is narrated by Oliver, who is anxious to lose his virginity before his 16th birthday, while also caught up in the angst of watching his parents grow farther and farther apart. While he obsesses about earning the affection of eczema-plagued pyromaniac Jordana (Yasmin Paige), he is also consumed with finding out whether his mother (Sally Hawkins) is sleeping with the New Age weirdo next door (Paddy Considine).
Ayoade says he can't relate to Oliver as a youth, but adds he's totally fascinated by him. "The way the character behaves is, in many ways, very alien to me," says the curly-mop-topped director, who has shot music videos for the likes of Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys (who wrote the soundtrack for Submarine) and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
"But that's also what was interesting about him. He is baffling in the things he does, which on the face of it are very cruel. Oliver is also very estranged from the world in many respects. I wouldn't say he's an Everyman type of character at all. He's very one-off."
From Roberts's first audition, Ayoade knew the 20-year-old Welshman - who has been compared to a young Dustin Hoffman - was perfect for the role.
"There are just some people you feel you can watch, who have something to them. And Craig is just naturally funny, without feeling like he's mugging," says Ayoade, who has also directed an episode of the hit American sitcom Community. "He's got a great voice, and his cadence is really good. He's just a delight. And he and Yasmin were a joy. I couldn't have asked for more."
During seven weeks of shooting in Wales, the biggest impediment was relentless rain, Ayoade says. "I quite like the rain, so that's okay for me," he said, but it made it hard to plan outdoor shots.
Ayoade wrote the screenplay, while Dunthorne served as a consultant on the script. "It took me some time to get the screenplay right because I was also juggling The IT Crowd at the same time," Ayoade said.
"But from the moment I read Submarine, I knew I wanted to be attached," says Ayoade, a great admirer of Woody Allen, Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. "The prose was great, and the characters felt authentic. Not clichéd."
His next project, an ambitious one, is an adaptation of Fyodor Dostoevsky's novella The Double.
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