I’ll keep this relatively short because Richard Ayoade’s The Double is probably not a movie that you were waiting for — or have even heard of. But the basic takeaway I want to convey for those who don’t want to read this entire thing is that you should go watch this movie, as long as you meet two qualifications:
a) you aren’t deterred by weirdness.
b) you can deal with mild amounts of pretentiousness.
You’re reading my blog though, so you’re probably good to go…
Now for some details. The Double is the second film by British comedian Richard Ayoade, whose first movie Submarine was my favorite movie of 2011. The fact that Ayoade is best known for straightforward British comedy shows The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd) is not an indication of the tone of this film. Of course, the movie is often hilarious but the movie is just as much a psychological drama as it is a comedy, with additional traces of fantasy/science fiction.
Ayoade and co-writer Avi Korine tell the story of deliciously awkward Simon (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who lives and works in a strange universe contained solely within some sort of dystopian factory running on 1980s technology. The world crafted here is one of the most unique in recent memory; imaginative yet familiar, colorful yet dreary, logically impossible yet oddly believable. The entire film is shot indoors, reflecting the stifling oppression that encapsulates Simon’s entire being.
Simon finds himself shocked by the arrival of James, a dude who looks and sounds just like him (played by Michael Cera — my bad, on second glance both characters are actually played by Jesse Eisenberg). Unlike Simon, James is assertive and thus grabs everyone’s attention away from the already-marginalized Simon and eventually threatens to sideline Simon from his own life.
Having both characters played by Jesse Eisenberg works mostly because Eisenberg is so good at acting both terribly shy (Adventureland, Zombieland) and intensely douche-baggy (The Squid and the Whale, Now You See Me). We basically saw him play both at the same time in The Social Network.Because of this versatility, it’s always apparent whether we are watching Simon or James onscreen — except at times when we are purposefully supposed to be unsure — and he doesn’t even need to rely on some sort of weird accent change-up like Lindsay Lohan (I can’t believe I just compared this movie to The Parent Trap). The large supporting cast is just as good as Eisenberg, featuring a bunch of actors who understand comedic timing and are able to sneak potent subtext into almost every line they deliver. Mia Wasikowska is especially well-matched to Eisenberg as his love interest (they’re apparently dating in real life, which tends to help). Most of the cast from Submarine returns in very small roles, with Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts stealing the couple of scenes they have.
Ultimately, though, it is Ayoade himself that leaves the biggest impression. The movie is absolutely beautiful, almost as meticulously designed as a Wes Anderson film while simultaneously allowing for more freedom via kinetic camera movement, resulting in a style of controlled chaos, messy-by-design.
The film’s bold colors stands out amidst the intentionally drab look of the walls and uniforms of the factory. Ayoade’s employment of bright reds, blues, and yellows were just as striking in Submarine, and his return to these same color motifs seem to suggest he is attempting to create a signature look and feel across his separate films.
And if Ayoade really does want to be seen as an auteur, he certainly has the right: He has a daringly idiosyncratic yet consistent voice. Both of his movies are hilarious and sarcastic, allowing audiences to warm up to the often-unlikeable but understandable characters, slowly building up internal and external complexity, and eventually revealing important, earnest truths about human emotions and behavior.
The Double is far more ambitious than Submarine, and while it still works miraculously well as a whole, it has its fair share of potential turn-offs, though it really depends on the viewer’s tolerance. Like Wes Anderson, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the overdose of stylistic flourishes and quirky narratives self-indulgent, and particularly towards the end I felt the film become a bit too weird and abstract for its own good.
In addition the film’s literary inclinations, can feel equally excessive and pretentious. I can also imagine that the numerous allusions to other films/filmmakers can make the film feel exclusionary and unfriendly to the average viewer.
Still, I can’t imagine there are many who wouldn’t at the very least enjoy the film for it’s eye-catching appearance, bitingly entertaining dark humor, and great performances. I waited three years for this movie, and despite my high expectations I was not in the least bit disappointed by The Double. This is only Ayoade’s second movie, but it already feels like his fifth. Who knows, maybe the next one will feel like his tenth — I already can’t wait to find out.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars