On the surface, "Submarine" is not like anyone's real-life coming-of-age, loss-of-virginity, first-love kind of experience.
It's too clever, too mature, the characters are too self-aware to really reflect the bumbling trial-and-error approach through which most of us satisfy our early romantic yearnings.
Yet first-time director Richard Ayoade's film is a joy to watch, a story that stirs up nostalgic longing for a time we willingly traded away our innocence, even if our own experiences were so much more prosaic than the literate fantasy world of Oliver Tate.
Adapted from Joe Dunthorne's novel, "Submarine" stars Craig Roberts as 15-year-old Oliver, an awkward, lyrical Welsh youth with two priorities: securing his own first sexual encounter and putting some spark back into his dowdy parents' marriage.
Oliver casts his eye on classmate Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a self-possessed rebel who suffers bouts of eczema and likes to set small fires.
What begins as a romance of convenience for both turns into a sweet, touching tale of young love, with very authentic interludes of blissful obsession and abrupt disregard that really capture a sense of the fickleness of teen relations.
Running alongside Oliver and Jordana's story is the tale of the Tates. Oliver's mom, Jill (Sally Hawkins) has become a perky but bored housefrau, married to chronically depressed marine biologist Lloyd (Noah Taylor).
Oliver monitors his parents' sex life by checking the dimmer switch on their bedroom light, and it's been a while since the Tates turned the lamp down low. Meantime, Jill is tempted by an old flame as ponderous self-help and enlightenment guru Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) moves back to town and puts on the charm.
So it's up to Oliver to keep windbag Graham's hands off his mother, while trying to pull his dad out of his funk so he can man up and get back to romancing his woman.
The action turns much darker than you'd expect given the light touch Ayoade applies early on, when Oliver spins blithe fantasy sequences in which all of Wales mourns his tragic death. Ayoade, who also adapted the screenplay in consultation with Dunthorne, deftly weaves the comic and sober elements to deliver a film that's fresh and funny but has some real bite.
A British TV director, Ayoade accentuates Oliver's story with a smart soundtrack featuring songs by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, for whom the filmmaker has directed music videos.
The writer-director's approach is overly literary at times, relying too heavily on Oliver's voice-over monologues to carry the story. Amusing as the narration is, much of it was unnecessary given the expressiveness of the cast.
With his big eyes (and big circles under his eyes), Roberts creates a lovable mix of hipster and social pariah in Oliver, a geek so out of step that he's the coolest of cool. Paige matches him note for note, her Jordana a complex blend of surface cool that masks her deeply troubled spirit.
Hawkins and Taylor are beautifully cast - she's a seemingly sexless matron whose passion still burns within, he's a seemingly dreary academic with a poetic soul. Even Considine's buffoonish Graham has concealed layers under his cock-of-the-walk exterior.
We initially see everyone through Oliver's eyes, but it turns out he doesn't quite know the people in his life as well as he thinks he does.
With "Submarine," it's what lies beneath that counts, and it's a grand voyage tagging along with Oliver as he finds them out.
The Weinstein Co. release, is rated R for language and some sexual content. Running time: 97 minutes.