Thursday Trailer Face-Off! Submarine vs. The Art of Getting By
Published June 2, 2011
Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Submarine vs. The Art of Getting By, two movies about teenaged boys informed in equal parts by Holden Caulfield and Rushmore’s Max Fischer and the manic pixie dream girls who help them to discover themselves.
PremiseTo succinctly sum up the plots of both of these movies, we’ll defer to Tilly and the Wall: “Well, the high school kids are all fucked up!” Both The Art of Getting By and Submarine revolve around smart, lonely teenaged boys who are uninterested in typical, appropriate high-school pursuits. In Submarine, it’s a British kid named Oliver Tate; in The Art of Getting By, it’s a New Yorker named George. In each case, the boy becomes interested in a similarly inclined lady: Sally and Jordana, respectively. And that’s about all! (The dirty little secret about coming-of-age stories is that not much actually has to happen.) There’s a lot about these two characters that’s similar: “I don’t quite know what I am yet,” Oliver laments at 0:23 in the Submarine trailer. “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” George says at 0:18 in The Art of Getting By trailer, later adding, “I don’t have anything to say!” And they both sass their teachers: “Everything seemed meaningless, including the assignment, unfortunately,” George says as a way of explaining why he hasn’t done his homework. Oliver opts for a note saying “Please excuse Oliver from class. His tiny heart is broken.” The difference seems to be that while Oliver and his lady do date and then break up, George and his lady have one of those weird pseudo-dating friendships and then he gets mad when she hooks up with his cool older friend. We’re betting both the outcomes are the same, but we’re giving this one to The Art of Getting By for the realism factor—when you’re in high school, those weird pseudo-dating friendships seem like the most complicated, profound thing that could ever happen to a person. Advantage: The Art of Getting By
Cast Submarine stars Craig Roberts as Oliver, whose biggest credit to date was as John Reed in Jane Eyre. The Art of Getting By‘s star, Freddie Highmore, will be more familiar to audiences—he was in Finding Neverland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His love interest is more familiar, too—it’s Emma Roberts, Julia’s niece, who’s been appearing in indie films (and, uh, Hotel for Dogs), and at more and more fashion parties, over the last few years. We’d never heard of her Submarine counterpart, Yasmin Paige. Submarine definitely wins for its parents, though: Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky, Never Let Me Go) and Noah Taylor (Vanilla Sky, The New World) vs. The Art of Getting By‘s Rita Wilson (It’s Complicated) and Sam Robards (Gossip Girl). But the scales are tipping towards The Art of Getting By, and the inclusion of Michael Anganaro as George’s older friend, Alicia Silverstone as his teacher, and Blair Underwood as his principal seals it. Advantage: The Art of Getting By
Manic Pixie Dream Girl Factor Apparently neither Submarine‘s nor The Art of Getting By‘s filmmakers read Nathan Rabin’s memorable piece coining the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” a static female lead who’s more a collection of quirks than a real person and who serves primarily to help the male lead discover himself. (It’s okay, guys—Woody Allen hasn’t read it either, if Marion Cotillard’s role in Midnight in Paris is any indication). Both Sally and Jordana are major MPDGs. “Jordana Bevan’s moderately unpopular, which makes a romance between the two of us more likely,” Oliver explains at 0:40 in the Submarine trailer. When he drums up the courage to approach her, she tells him to meet her under the bridge after school and, once there, proceeds to order him to kneel, kiss him, take a bunch of Polaroids of the kissing, and then say he looks mentally retarded. As for The Art of Getting By, Sally asks George why he never does his work, and his answer prompts her to say, “You’re really weird. We should hang out.” Classic MPDG line: she appreciates him for how unique he is! But we do get at least a suggestion that Sally has an interior life beyond MPDG-ing: she hooks up with George’s friend, presumably for her own reasons, and then holds equal stead with George when they fight about it later: “You told him we weren’t together!” she says exasperatedly, making a pretty good point. Advantage: The Art of Getting By
Laughs Oliver’s directionlessness in Submarine lends itself to a pretty funny send-up of the malleability of teenage identity: “I’ve tried flipping coins, listening exclusively to French crooners, I’ve even had a brief hat phase; but nothing stuck.” And at 0:58, after their kiss, Jordana asks, “What are you complaining about? This is conclusive proof that you might not be gay,” and her delivery is worth at least a good snort. In The Art of Getting By, the comedy is on about the same level: “Do you want me to introduce you to any girls?” a girl in a fascinator asks George at a party (1:17). “I have a lot of slutty friends here you might like!” We feel like we know that girl and we’ve been to her party. And then at 1:25, George and Sally have a (chaste) sleepover and—we’re led to believe—George wakes up with morning wood, which makes for a pretty funny shot-reverse shot. Submarine wins it, though, for the last scene in the trailer: “I was crying earlier. My eyes are probably red,” Oliver tells Jordana. “They look fine,” she spits. “Maybe they don’t go red when I cry, then,” he says, pointlessly—but funnily! Advantage: Submarine
Writer-DirectorSubmarine was written and directed by Richard Ayoade, whose previous credits include the Abed’s-birthday-party episode of Community, as well as a TV movie called AD/BC: A Rock Opera, which we would watch. He’s also acted on the well-received British comedy series The IT Crowd. And the movie is based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, which got excellent reviews. The Art of Getting By is the debut picture for writer-director Gavin Wiesen—his only other writing and directing credit on IMDb is for a short called Kill the Day—so he’s a wild card. Advantage: Submarine
Music Hipster battle! The Art of Getting By features music by Alec Puro, the drummer for the LA art-project-cum-darkwave-band Deadsy. That’s a pretty solid pedigree! But Submarine enlisted the musical stylings of Alex Turner, lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys—a much bigger act, and one of which (as we established just this week) we are solid fans. Advantage: Submarine
Verdict The Art of Getting By was strong out of the gate, but Submarine performed strong in later categories, and we just can’t decide! These movies are evenly matched, and for every potential pitfall we could think of for one, there was a similar-grade one for the other: The Art of Getting By looks like it might be a little overly sentimental (though maybe we’re just projecting that because of the last Emma Roberts movie we saw, It’s Kind of a Funny Story); but we’re also wary of the stylized, too-clever-by-half business going on with Submarine—that monologue at the end about Oliver letting Jordana swim around in his blood or whatever could, if the movie doesn’t earn it, be cringeworthy. So we’ll call it a tie, but not a “definitely go see both” kind of tie—more like, you could probably see either one and have much the same experience, plus or minus an accent or two. The Winner: Whatever strikes your fancy.