As an exercise in style, Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of Joe Dunthome’s coming-of-age novel is impressive. But in terms of substance “Submarine” proves an affected tale centered on one of those ultra-precocious adolescents one rarely if ever encounters outside of memoirs and sitcoms. It’s may be a pretty empty package, but the wrapping is certainly attractive.

The boy in question is fifteen-year old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), who lives in a Welsh seaside town with his parents Lloyd and Jill (Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins). Oliver has two great ambitions. One is to save his parents’ marriage, threatened by the reappearance of his mother’s old flame Graham (Paddy Considine), a scruffy self-help promoter who’s moved in next door. The other, of course, is to have sex, which he hopes to achieve by winning over a sharp-tongued classmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige).

We follow Oliver’s travails and mini-triumphs as he pursues his goals in comical fashion and describes his efforts to us in a stream of insufferably cute narration. Throughout Roberts maintains an owlish, impassive demeanor, even as he invades his neighbor’s house or must deal with the potentially terminal illness of his girlfriend’s mother. Ayoade treats his odyssey with an incessantly flamboyant visual sense, exalting in composing elaborate sequences like an opening montage in which his young protagonist imagines the whole nation mourning his untimely demise. The intention is for us to empathize with this oddball dreamer, but you’re more likely to find him faintly irritating rather than lovable—a feeling you might also have about the director’s approach to the material.

Ayoade extends his penchant for technical virtuosity and cartoonish characterization into the other story threads as well. Considine becomes a caricature as the preening guru Graham, and Paige is brusque as Jordana, who’s as much an adolescent overachiever as Oliver himself. Taylor manages to bring a few moments of genuine emotion to the elder Tate, an obsessed marine biologist whose mousy ways have long turned off his wife, but Hawkins is stuck playing Jill as a stiff, uptight matron looking for something—or someone—more invigorating than he is.

Still, it must be admitted that Ayoade does maintain a distinctive tone throughout “Submarine,” and even if it represents a kind of smug self-consciousness, it shows a firm hand at work. So the question the movie poses is whether you’ll find the eye-catching style sufficient compensation for the picture’s lack of content.