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Critical Consensus: “Submarine” Leads Strong Batch of Indie Openers (Not To Mention “X-Men”)

Critical Consensus: "Submarine" Leads Strong Batch of Indie Openers (Not To Mention "X-Men")

After two consecutive weekends of some of Cannes 2011’s biggest guns debuting Stateside as essentially the sole specialty options (Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” and Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”), the indie release calendar gets quite a bit more expansive this weekend. With three releases hailing from last year’s Toronto Film Festival and one holdover from Cannes 2010, this Friday sees everything from Richard Ayoade’s British coming-of-age comedy “Submarine,” Mike Mills’ whimsical romantic drama “Beginners,” Shawn Ku’s take on a high school shooting, “Beautiful Boy,” and Cannes 2010’s “Film Socialisme,” the latest from legendary French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Also, there is the critically acclaimed studio alternative in “X-Men: First Class,” which gains some indie cred from a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and James McAvoy.

On the whole, all the films received strong notices from criticWIRE (though “X-Men” was not included in the poll as it doesn’t tend to factor in studio films). But the overall pick of the week was “Submarine,” which edged out “Beginners” in particular with a B+ average from 20 different critics. The 1980s-set tale follows Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a boy on a mission to save his parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) from the dissolution of their marriage and to lose his virginity before he turns 16. One of the freshest and distinctively clever teen tales in some time, “Submarine” should also give audiences two of this summer’s big indie breakouts in director Ayoade and star Roberts. indieWIRE‘s Eric Kohn discusses the film – and the rest of the weekend’s releases – below:

Growing up is a dominant theme for the current spate of new releases. For most theatergoers this weekend, the coming-of-age story to beat is “X-Men: First Class.” In truth, “Submarine” has a lot more to offer than mutant heroes in tights, no matter how slick the presentation. The directorial debut of British comedian Richard Ayoade, “Submarine” has been a festival favorite ever since it showed up at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. With its amusingly awkward performance from newcomer Craig Roberts (in a breakthrough role that could have easily led to a spot in the young “X-Men” cast the way Jennifer Lawrence got hers in the wake of “Winter’s Bone”), Ayoade’s bittersweet tale is consistently endearing enough to distract from its hugely derivative core.

Roberts plays 15-year-old Oliver Tate, a wide-eyed high schooler equally intent on landing a girlfriend and saving his parents marriage. Whether he succeeds on either count matters less than the Ayoade’s clever means of inhabiting the character’s jittery subjectivity, using quirky chapter titles and other stylistic devices to make Oliver’s geeky world come to life. In that regard, it’s quite similar in execution to Mike Mills’ lovely, semi-autobiographical love story, “Beginners,” another TIFF ’10 breakout opening on Friday.

By contrast, the endlessly dreary “Beautiful Boy,” which also deals with a frustrated young adult, maintains a sterile feel throughout. Shawn Ku’s matter-of-fact look at grief-stricken parents (Mario Bello and Michael Sheen) dealing with the aftermath of their son’s role in a college shooting has little to offer beyond its perfectly grim performances. It begs mentioning that the recent Cannes competition entry “We Need to Talk About Kevin” contains a similar premise but far more advanced narrative devices. (It was recently picked up for theatrical distribution by Oscilloscope Laboratories.) Lynne Ramsay’s non-linear approach to deconstructing a wayward teen’s downward spiral has more in common with the structurally inventive techniques of the other releases this weekend, including Jean-Luc Godard’s intentionally obtuse “Film Socialisme,” another story about a fractured family. In that sense, “Beautiful Boy” is in the minority of this weekend’s new releases for being so mundane, if tolerably so. Considering the aforementioned range of options, this list of options offers something for everyone – everyone, that is, who won’t be seeing “X-Men: First Class.”

Check out the links below for more extensive takes on “Submarine,” “Beginners,” “Film Socialisme” and “Beautiful Boy.” Also offered is the top 10 criticWIRE scores for films already in theaters, which is currently topped by Clio Barnard’s “The Arbor” for the third week running.

iW Film Calendar & criticWIRE:
criticWIRE | Opening this week | Opening this month | All Films A – Z

criticWIRE: Films Opening This Week
NOTE: The averages listed here are current as of the publishing of this article. They are subject to change as new grades come in, and will be updated in next week’s edition of this article.

Submarine (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

Beginners (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Film Socialisme (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Beautiful Boy (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

criticWIRE: 10 Best Bets Already In Theaters

1. The Arbor (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: A-

2. Le Quattro Volte (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

3. Meek’s Cutoff (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

4. The Tree of Life (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

5. Tuesday After Christmas (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

6. City of Life and Death (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

7. Certified Copy (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

8. Incendies (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B+

9. Midnight In Paris (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B-

10. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (iW film page)
Average criticWIRE rating: B

Previous Picks of the Week:
May 25: Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”
May 18: Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris”
May 11: Lu Chaun’s “City of Life and Death”
May 4: Koji Wakamatsu’s “Caterpillar”
April 27: Clio Barnard’s “The Arbor”
April 20: Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies”
April 13: Janus Metz’s “Armadillo”
April 6: Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff”
March 30: Michaelangelo Frammartino’s “Le Quattro Volte”

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