TWITCH FILM – Toronto review by Todd Brown
It seems fair to say that when Richard Aoyade’s debut feature, Submarine,
premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 it caught people
by surprise. There were few expectations on the little indie comedy from the
large-haired comedian turned director, no big name cast to hang hopes on, and
simply not enough information available for those not already devotees of
Ayoade’s comedy work to form any sort of opinion. And so people were caught
somewhat by surprise when it became a huge buzz title from the festival that
year, securing a big sale to a big company and, as buzz titles often do,
ultimately dividing audiences into two camps.
On one side there were those – myself very much among them – who
simply adored the film and considered it one of the most promising debut
features in quite some time from a director who clearly was well on his way to
forming a fresh and distinct voice. On the other side were those who considered
it too twee, too indebted to Wes Anderson to take seriously and dismissed
Ayoade as just the latest example of a festival inflating the chatter around a
director beyond what any ‘regular’ audience would ever feel appropriate.
Well, Ayoade is back now with film number two, The Double.
A film that counts Spring Breakers director Harmony Korine amongst its
producers, former IT Crowd co-stars Chris Morris and Chris O’Dowd
amongst its cast, and is – not surprisingly at the point because we’ve known it
for quite a long time, but still quite odd – adapted from a story by
Dostoevsky. And now it can be said definitively: My side of the argument around
Submarine was absolutely correct, those who dismissed Ayoade as an
Anderson clone were wildly wrong, and what we have here is a fiercely
intelligent, hugely idiosyncratic talent who is seemingly capable of going in
any great number of directions and making all of them entirely his own. Two
films is too soon by far to be labeling someone a master but Ayoade stands
alongside Ben Wheatley as vibrant proof that the future of British film is both
quite odd and very, very bright. The Double is simply fantastic.
Jesse Eisenberg is Simon James, the sort of man who is not only
easy to forget but is the sort of man that everybody does, in fact,
forget. Soft spoken, indecisive, insecure, is it any wonder that his own mother
considers him a failure and that his boss of seven years (the inimitable
Wallace Shawn) can’t even remember his name? Even the entry control system at
work forgets him – his keycard never, ever working and the security guard
never, ever remembering him, thus forcing Simon to sign in to the building as a
visitor every day just to get to work.
Somewhat tellingly, Simon’s workplace feels like the bastard
love child of Franz Kafka and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a cubicle farm of
data entry technicians logging and cataloging the personal details of thousands
of people while lorded over by their benevolent master, The Colonel. It is as
though while reducing people’s lives to a set of data Simon has become himself
nothing more than a number, stripped of any meaningful identity.
The one bright spot in Simon’s life – his one bit of hope – is
Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), the lovely copier room girl he pines for from a
distance, hopelessly unable to work up the courage to ever speak to.
Simon’s life amounts to a bland nothing for the most part but,
if nothing else, at least that nothing is an orderly nothing, at least until
the sudden arrival of James Simon. James is Simon’s exact duplicate – they look
alike, they sound alike, they dress alike – except, of course, for the simple
fact that they are nothing alike. Where Simon is polite to a fault, James is
brash and rude. Where Simon is afraid to speak his mind, James barks out
orders. Where Simon is kind and considerate, James is an amoral schemer. And
so, of course, everyone – Hannah very much included – likes James better. And
Simon’s already paltry life starts to get very much worse.
The Double exists in a world of its own, a sepia
drenched construction caught up in an existential crisis of massive
proportions. And it’s a world that Ayoade delights in, in his drily absurd way,
lacing the entire thing through with a deliciously dry sense of humor.
Eisenberg is as strong as he’s ever been in his dual role, Wasikowska quietly
radiant as the object of his affections, and the supporting cast – which
includes virtually the entire principal cast of Submarine in some role
or another – stellar from top to bottom. The direction is impeccable, the
script – co-written by Ayoade and Avi Korine – equally so, the overall film
very nearly flawless.
Will The Double appeal to everyone? No, of course not.
But if you’re the sort who has been known to break out laughing at Kafka, then
it doesn’t get better than this. Very highly recommended.
GUARDIAN 5* (UK broadsheet) – Henry Barnes
The Double: Toronto 2013 – first look reviewJesse Eisenberg stars
alongside himself in Richard Ayoade’s adaptation of a Dostoyevsky story about a
meek office worker who is confronted by his confident, aggressive doppelgänger.
It’s a brilliant copy of a great original, says Henry Barnes
Dank and depressing, spurred by impotent rage and deflated ambition,
The Double arrives as the black sheep of this year’s Toronto film festival
It’s a moody, gloomy comedy, a taut study of self-identity that comes
up with no easy answers. It’s totally out of step with the festival’s sunny
tastes. It might just be the best thing we’ll see all week.
Submarine director Richard Ayoade’s second film lays Fyodor
Dostoyevsky’s novella out in a nowhere land of office bureaucracy. Jesse
Eisenberg plays Simon James, a skivvying
worker bee who’s belittled by his colleagues and shunned by Hannah (Mia
Wasikowska) the elfin girl who works the office’s giant, clanking photocopier.
Eisenberg also plays James Simon, Simon James’ doppelgänger, who arrives
unannounced, wins over the boss and immediately starts dating Hannah. No-one
reacts to the duplication, because Simon’s such a nobody. You don’t know it’s a
copy if you haven’t seen the original.
The Double mirrors aspects of Gilliam, Gondry and the Coen brothers’
Hudsucker Proxy. Ayoade shares those directors’ intricacy. He uses sound
rhythmically, builds farce and tragedy out of the simplest devices. A beautiful
moment of character exposition pops up as Simon heads to the office. A workman
methodically stacks boxes onto the tube as Simon tries to leave. The action
swings into time with the soundtrack. Simon steps around the man, but each time
the worker is back in the way. It’s a clever, funny and moving little scene. An
immediate indication of how hopeless Simon is. Everything, inside and out of
the fiction, is against him. A blender roars to life as he tries to listen in
on a conversation. A draught whips up and drowns him out when he thinks of
something clever to say. Ayoade’s killer script takes evil pleasure in having Simon
swallow his words and stutter through life.
Eisenberg’s last film, the bumpy magician heist movie Now You See Me,
saw the nervy actor play an arrogant card shark. He’s said that that role freed
him, allowed him to unleash a side of himself that made him feel more
confident. At times the actor’s nervousness can slip into arrogance. The Double
plays on this. James is gregarious and cool – everything that Simon (and
Eisenberg) aspire to be. It’s a superb piece of meta-casting.
Ayoade isn’t a spontaneous director – there’s a plot and a plan at
work here. Everything, from the repetition in the soundtrack to Ayoade’s
recruitment of many of the actors he used in Submarine as The Double’s bored
salarymen – slips into the spirit of the fiction. Because of this some may find
The Double a little arch, a touch too fastidious, but there’s a real creative
energy at force. This kind of exactitude is what makes for great comedy, even
one that at times lacks heart.
The Double isn’t an original idea. It wasn’t even in Dostoyevsky’s
time. But it’s a great story. And Ayoade has produced a brilliant copy.
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