I was never the biggest fan of Richard Ayoade’s debut, Submarine. I enjoyed it, in the same way that I enjoy a good, fun piece of TV, but I didn’t think it worked especially well in the cinema. And, after they released trailers and promos for The Double, I had a suspicion that I was going to feel the same way. Stark, bold expressionist lighting, minimalist sets, and a non-specific dystopian feel are all symptoms, in my mind, of a certain type of juvenile filmmaking. It is a trend, in some young filmmakers, of trying to address big ideas by taking a visual hatchet to them. It was a relief, therefore, to find that The Double was smart, funny, unpretentious and bleakly profound.
The film centres on Jesse Eisenberg’s Simon James, a loser who is so ineffectual that people scarcely know that he exists (or notices when a second version of him, called James Simon and played again by Eisenberg, appears). Simon undergoes something of an existential crisis, all the while entertaining a hopelessly unrequited crush on Mia Wasikowska’s Hannah. Based on a Dostoyevsky novella, The Double is rooted in a sensation of Soviet-era oppression, coupled with a Kafkaesque futility that roots Simon James somewhere between Gregor Samsa and Josef K.
The film is dark and moody – the visual and aural style is deliberately affected, as is the production design (a sort of revisionist steampunk aesthetic) and costume work (Eisenberg’s suits are several sizes too large, whilst Wasikowska looks like she’s stepped out of a dream). That might’ve led to a much broodier film, but, at his heart, Ayoade is a very funny man, and The Double is a surprisingly light film. Yes, yes, there are moments when the oppressive reality of Simon’s existence lead to a claustrophobic sensation that permeates the audience, but, generally, the jokes are frequent and, most importantly, really strong. It’s a dark comedy (erring on black comedy) that keeps its tragedy nicely in perspective.
Eisenberg is terrific – haven’t I always said he is? – in the central roles. Most significantly, he manages to make James Simon plausibly charismatic without deviating too much from the Eisenberg formula. Wasikowska is predictably lovely and manages to present something like a grounded manic pixie dream girl. The supporting cast are made up from fun character actors – Wallace Shawn, James Fox – and the entire cast of Submarine. There’s quite a variety of efficacy in these performances – ranging from Shawn’s terrifically sweet-sour boss through to Noah Taylor’s surprisingly narratively underused colleague – but overall the ensemble carry the strong script and production design through to a satisfying conclusion.
A terrific follow-up to Submarine that shows that Ayoade is making the films he wants to make. Dark, funny and genuinely touching.
|Starring:||Jesse Eisenberg, Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn|
|Running Time:||Not too long, maybe 90 mins?|
|Certificate:||15 for 'fuck's|