Director: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, James Fox, Chris O’Dowd, Tim Key, Noah Taylor, Sally Hawkins
Written by: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine and (baed on the novella) Fyodor Dostoevsky
Running Time: 93 mins
Release date: 4th April 2014
Based on the novella by Dostoevsky, The Double is the second feature to be directed by comedy actor (and all round nice guy) Richard Ayoade, who is probably better known as Moss in the hit TV show, The IT Crowd. After the sublime and lovely Submarine, this was always going to be the difficult second “album” as far as directing is concerned and while it is brimming with more imagination and ideas than a movie has any right to have, it does lack something that his first film had loads of. Heart.
Simon James is a non-descript young man who is almost like a ghost to everyone. He works in a non-descript office, in rows of cubicles. He sometimes has trouble getting into his work because no one notices him and he is in love with Hannah, a shy young woman who works in another part of the building, photocopying. Then one day, Simon discovers that the new young hot-shot who has turned up at his office is the identical to himself, except for being bold and brassy and popular, especially with his boss, Mr Papadopoulos. The newcomer, called James Simon, leans on Simon James to do his work for him as a favour, so he can woe Hannah for the shy version, not knowing that James Simon has other plans to rise up the corporate ladder, taking Hannah with him.
Ayoade is a huge cinematic fan and so the influences are everywhere, from German Absurdest cinema to Kafka to Orsen Welles and, especially (although we are not sure if this is deliberate) Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Set in no particular time, it’s all dark browns and shadows, making everything look and feel empty and cold. The visuals are excellent and cinematographer Erik Wilson has managed to make a land of cold corridors and creaking lifts seems surreal yet real at the same time.
The humour is splatterings of everything, from cruel slapstick to subtle movements to an incredible use of sound, somewhat similar to that of Jacques Tati. It’s an odd mixture that Ayoade manages to pull together and while not consistently laugh out loud, it still has plenty to admire. It also feels very ambitious, not only in its style but in its ultimate message and it doesn’t always work. That each of us has another side that we can discover if we truly want to.
Told with a doppelgänger, we get two very different performances from Jesse Eisenberg and he does a terrific job, managing the shy and retiring with the loud and obnoxious, Eisneberg pulls off both with not only great comic timing but with an assured air. Mia Wasikowska, is perfect as the love interesting and the rest of the film is littered with cameos from Ayoade’s friends and work colleagues, including Chris O’Dowd and Christopher Morris from the IT Crowd, to almost the entire cast of Submarine. My favourite part (and I hope there’s a movie) is Paddy Considine as a cheesy sci-fi cop in a TV series that pops up throughout the film.
So with all these positives why doesn’t the film work? Submarine managed to balance the slightly surreal and absurd with a feel for European cinema, while at the same time told a coming-of-age love story and the two worked well together. Here the style is so forthright that you find yourself completely immersed in that world, yet you find it hard to emote with the character, especially Simon/James. They are good creations but you ultimately don’t care enough about them, especially the quiet Simon. You feel he’s too wet, too dippy and so the love story element doesn’t really work.
I also think that it’s going to be hard to find an audience for this. Ayoade has made a really good salute to some extreme elements of cinema and fans of that world will lap this stuff up but the general public will be confused and probably bemused too. It is a film to be admired and proves that Ayoade is a definitely a director to watch. It just feels too clever for itself to be totally enjoyable.