Prominent British TV comedy writer-performer Richard Ayoade (star of the mediocre IT Crowd) makes his feature-film debut with a flatlined attempt at Wes Anderson– esque romantic melancholy and precocious idiosyncrasy—complete with Truffaut references. Perpetually duffle-coated high schooler Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a dictionary-reading lovelorn obsessive in pursuit of the sarcastic Jordana (Yasmin Paige). Dad is a marine biologist (Noah Taylor) ready for embalming, though once probably nervously alert like Oliver; Mom (a terrific Sally Hawkins) is unsatisfied, buttoned-up, and teetering on the brink of an affair with an old-flame neighbor—a virile, mulleted New Age caricature played by Paddy Considine.
Ayoade’s film sinks largely because of the wide-eyed, expressionless Roberts, who effectively interprets the hero of the Joe Dunthorne source novel as an Asperger’s sufferer. Even when there’s no meticulous nerdy voiceover, Roberts is like a voiceover in human form, a mere line-reader and a monotonous physical presence. The movie’s conception of the tender agonies and embarrassments of would-be teenage lovers is hobbled by punchline cuts and predictable musical montages (carefree dashes, setting off bottle rockets, etc.).
The film gets a little traction when it delves into middle-aged malaise thanks to a hilarious Hawkins (doing more detailed, adroit work) and a credibly morose Taylor, but it’s hard to take the couple’s predicament seriously when set against Considine’s goofball turn. All in all, a film that leaves you waiting for the end to come sooner than it does.