Toronto film festival: Review: Grim comedy that's full of creative energy: The Double 5/5
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) 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 gloomy comedy. A taut study of self-identity that comes up with no easy answers. It might just be the best thing 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 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's doppelganger, 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 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 he tries to leave. Simon steps around the man, but each time the worker is back in the way.
It's a clever, funny and moving little scene. Everything is against him. A blender roars to life as he tries to listen in on a conversation. A draft drowns him out when he thinks of something clever to say. Ayoade's script takes evil pleasure in having Simon swallow his words and stutter through life.
At times Eisenberg's nervousness can change into arrogance. The Double plays on this. James Simon is gregarious and cool - everything that Simon James (and Eisenberg) aspires to be. It's a superb piece of meta-casting.
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 spirit of the fiction. Some may find The Double a touch too fastidious, but there's a real creative energy at work. This 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. Ayoade has produced a brilliant copy. Henry Barnes
Jesse Eisenberg is perfectly cast as both Simon James, whom life is against, and his exact opposite, James Simon
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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