This review appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 20th November 2011
Richard Ayoade is one of those bright young things (British, of course) who’s done a bit of telly, made some videos, acted in a sitcom (The IT Crowd) – and now turns out a brilliant piece of low-key, deadpan British (in this case Welsh) cinema. Like his protagonist, 15-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts, in his first feature film role), I bet he looks like he’s not even trying – but that is probably just an affectation.
Oliver is a typical schoolboy, infatuated with the rebellious Jordana (Oliver is generally against bullying but he puts his moral code aside in order to court her) and worried about the state of his parents’ marriage when his mum’s ex (Paddy Considine) moves in next door. He undertakes routine searches of his parents’ bedroom, and tries to encourage them towards a more passionate existence.
Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor (retaining his unmentioned Aussie accent) have a ball playing strait-laced and nerdy, with wonderfully funny and squirm-inducing moments as they try to bond with their son (such as the making of a mix-tape of “relationship songs” in celebration of Oliver getting a girlfriend). Considine is reminiscent of Patrick Swayze’s character in the similar Donnie Darko, and although his role is thinly written, he provides substance to Oliver’s anxieties and humour as Graham the psychic.
Roberts looks like a younger Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Oliver’s romance has elements of 500 Days of Summer, with as much charm and careless handling of emotional situations. Roberts is the core of this film, albeit with a fantastic supporting cast, who never miss a beat, and his voiceover lets us into the mind of many a real-life teenage boy (differentiated from the Superbad crowd by his literary references and spot-on aphorisms).
Shot to look like grainy 80s video (in keeping with the era and setting), the script bursts with self-referential gags and crisply deadpan lines – at one point Oliver bemoans “the way things are going, the biopic of my life will only have the budget for a zoom out”. Whatever this film’s cost, its yield is rich and fulfilling.