Saturday, February 22, 2014

Glasgow Film Festival Review: The Double

The Double                              15 (tbc)                               Four out of five stars

Director: Richard Ayoade
Genre: Comedy
Stars: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Cathy Moriarty, Phyllis Somerville, James Fox, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, Tony Rohr, Susan Blommaert, Jon Korkes, Tim Key, Lloyd Woolf, Lydia Ayoade, Sally Hawkins, J. Mascis, Christopher Morris, Chris O'Dowd, Craig Roberts, Kierston Wareing.
Running time: 92 mins

Black comedy from writer-director Richard Ayoade, loosely based on the story by Dostoyevsky and starring Jesse Eisenberg as a weak-willed office worker who's tormented by his aggressively confident doppelganger (Jesse Eisenberg).

Stylishly directed and sharply written, this is a jet black comedy with a nightmarishly dark atmosphere, stunning sound design work and a pair of terrific central performances from Jesse Eisenberg.

What's it all about?

Directed by Richard Ayoade, The Double is based on the novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (which pre-Kafkas Kafka) and set in an unnamed time and place that has a vaguely 1980s Eastern European feel. Jesse Eisenberg stars as timid office worker Simon James, who's shunned by pretty co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) and practically invisible to his work colleagues – his boss (Wallace Shawn as Mr. Papadopoulos) still doesn't know his name after seven years and the surly security guard (Kobna Holdbrook-Smith) still makes him sign in with two forms of ID every day.

However, Simon's life is plunged into confusion with the arrival of co-worker James Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), who looks exactly like him but is everything he isn't: aggressively confident, successful with women and instantly popular with the boss. Worse still, no-one notices that they look exactly the same and soon James is taking over Simon's life, bullying him into doing his work for him and even strong-arming him into letting him use his flat for sexual assignations.

The good

Eisenberg is inspired casting for Simon / James, since his screen persona is neatly split between nervy, Woody Allen-esque nebbishness (think The Squid and the Whale or Adventureland) and cold-hearted, obnoxious arrogance (think The Social Network or Now You See Me). Consequently, he plays both parts to perfection here, distinguishing one from the other so expertly that you almost believe Hannah when she tells Simon she can't see the resemblance between them.

The supporting cast are equally good: Wasikowska is charming and cute (yet agonisingly disinterested) as Hannah and Shawn is a delight as Simon's dismissive boss (the contrast in his demeanour when James appears is beautifully played), while there are also a series of enjoyable cameos from the stars of Ayoade's previous film Submarine - including Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige and Sally Hawkins - as well as from Ayoade's IT Crowd co-stars Chris O'Dowd and Chris Morris.

The great

Ayoade's stylish direction creates a nightmarish dystopia that will be nonetheless instantly familiar to anyone who's ever toiled away in a thankless office job or suffered an enmity of a bullying co-worker. Similarly, Ayoade is a self-confessed film obsessive, so the film is packed full of enjoyable echoes of films like Brazil, The Hudsucker Proxy and the work of filmmakers like Michel Gondry and Aki Kaurismaki – there's even a hint of Billy Wilder's The Apartment.

In addition, the film is heightened further by some superbly imaginative sound design work, such as the scene where Simon tries to listen in on a crucial conversation but is thwarted by a badly-timed blender.

Worth seeing?

Ayoade's second film is a stylishly directed and darkly funny and disturbingly bleak black comedy with a pair of pitch-perfect performances from Jesse Eisenberg. Recommended.

Matthew Turner

(496 words)


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