I watched this movie for the simple fact that Richard Ayoade, who I have loved since episode 2 of The IT Crowd, wrote and directed it.
It’s a far cry from the occasionally broad comedy of The IT Crowd, and I suspect more accurately reflects Ayoade’s quiet, artistic, erudite roots. He went to Cambridge, after all, and a podcast featuring him that I recently listened to proved he is very reserved, self-deprecating, but also incredibly intelligent and well-spoken (though he mumbles like crazy). This film sort of reflects that personality. It is smart, it is odd, and I think in ways it would rather be noticed for being odd than being smart. It is sort of a British equivalent of a Wes Anderson film. Odd, endearing, but also in some ways too quirky to take seriously.
The story centers around Oliver Tate, a very strange teenage boy. The two quests he undertakes during the course of the movie are to get Jordana Bevan to love him, and to fix his parent’s marriage. The first quest is threatened by the fact that Jordana is far more popular than him, and she also has a mother sick with cancer. What ends up being the more difficult of the quests is the second. His father is obviously suffering from depression, and his mother ends up giving a hand job to her ex-boyfriend (an incredibly ridiculous mullet-clad martial artist-mystic) in a creepy van. It’s a weird movie. But I think that sort of reflects the weirdness and absolute nonsensical nature of adolescence. In the same way that Dali paintings and Alice in Wonderland irk me as an adult, I think they reflect something surrealist and strange about the world before we truly grasp how it works. Some things will always mystify me (mass violence, Yanni fans, people who like roast beef), but when I was younger, I couldn’t do a damn thing right. I remember that feeling, and I think watching Oliver Tate sort of reminds me how truly fucking weird we are as teenagers. Our actions are truly bizarre because we haven’t really figured out how things work in the world yet. Which is incredibly difficult for the teenager, but also kind of wonderful because for those fleeting years of adolescence you have the capacity to comprehend the world, but also the true ability to be original. You haven’t internalized the rules, yet.
This movie was not a slam dunk, I have to say. It was original, it was interesting, it was visually quirky. But quirkiness for quirkiness’ sake, makes me crazy. It takes place in the ’80s, so I may give it a pass on my usual pet peeve of arty people using 8mm film to record their arty world–when in reality no one uses that stuff anymore. But each character has a sort of representative color–Jordana wears red always; she has red stationary, a red backpack. Everything is red. It makes her more of a token woman more than a real one. I suppose this reflects Oliver’s ideas about what women should be, more than his capacity to see what they really are. He wants to be the best boyfriend in the world, because of some pre- concieved notion of what that is. When she really needs him, he’s not there for her. Typical high school boyfriend, yes?
As much as the overly goofy, quirky, parts of the movie irked me slightly, I would take this movie any day of the week over a lot of other slick films about adolescence, like American Pie or Juno (another movie with more quirk than substance, imho). It is at least original, it does have some really nice scenes and some scenes that will make you say WTF?
Another bonus is seeing people like Dave Coaches and Gwen from Gavin and Stacey thrown into the mix. The movie takes place in Wales, so that explains their involvement. Sadly, no one asked ‘what’s occurrin’ for the entire film. Apparently, a lot of the Gavin and Stacey dialect is indigenous only to Barry Island, and looked down upon by other Welsh people. Sad! I think it’s cute. But I digress.
It’s definitely worth watching if you like Wes Anderson stuff, like The Royal Tenenbaums or Rushmore. If you’re more annoyed than me by quirkiness, I’d steer clear. Then again, if you don’t like quirkiness, you might not be drawn to Richard Ayoade’s work in any form.