The Double Review | London Film Festival 2013

The Double review Richard Ayoade‘s indie gem hit Submarine contributed to Britain’s cinematic renaissance. He joined Steve McQueen and Lynne Ramsay amongst the most exciting and prominent filmmakers of the nation, along with Shame and We Need To Talk About Kevin, Ayoades’ impressive and immensely likeable debut helped put British filmmakers back on the map. Good riddance to the the laddy geezer movies of the creatively bankrupt ’90s, here was a new golden era for British cinema. Submarine was an inventive and gorgeous coming-of-age tale – Ayoade’s style sharp, fresh and exciting – and the script riddled with flair, witticisms and charming strangeness.

Sadly, The Double does not follow on from his first achievement in quite the same way. Intriguingly it’s adapted from the 1846 novella by Russian don Theodor Dostoyevsky, and is a weird inter-mingling of genres – surreal comedy, mystery and dystopic-noir. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a meek and mild-mannered office worker in a bleak, Orwellian office building. Hes’ worked there for seven years, but is ignored and under-appreciated. His only solace from the daily drone of his existence is observing his waif-like co-worker Hannah (Mia Wasikowka), who barely registers him. Then comes along his Doppelganger, James Simon. He’s identical to him, but a womanizing go-getter who is quickly welcomed by colleagues and boss Mr. Papadopolous. He catches the eye of female colleagues Hannah and the bosses wayward daughter Melanie (Yasmin Page). Both persona’s are played expertly by Eisenberg. Obvious comparisons to make are Kafkaesque qualities, the similarities to the Coen Brother’s Hudsucker Proxy, and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. On the more low-brow side though, it seriously felt like Youth In Revolt, the enjoyable 2009 indie romantic comedy where Michael Cera imagines a swaggering persona who teaches him how to get the woman of his dreams. Basically the same thing happens here, before it progresses into a nightmare world.

There’s more of the same self-conscious quirkiness prevalent in Submarine, but this seems to be its downfall. Ayoade is like an artist who has decided to paint the same canvas twice. This  isn’t the same film, far from it, but it felt like the former comedy has just invaded a place where is isn’t needed.  The script isn’t half as clever as his previous work – it actually becomes repetitive, – after an hour the novelty was wearing pretty thin. Obviously it’s common for auteurs and established directors to return to the same themes, use the same actors, employ the same humour. It’s part of establishing a form, style and trademark. Here though, Submarine has arrived again in a genre that it doesn’t fit. Practically all the same actors are here, Paige, Noah Taylor, Craig Roberts, Paddy Considine and Sally Hawkins . There was a particularly disappointing use of Considine. In Submarine, he’s hilarious as spiritual ninja Graham Purvis, but he is used in exactly the same way here. He props up every now and then in a TV set performing the same kind of moves in a ridiculous Sci-Fi action show. It was hard to laugh. Yes, we saw it once and loved it, must you repeat it? The Double’s  bizarreness borders on alienating and thus it’s hard to care about where the plot is going. Ayoade is a talented filmmaker and this is apparent in how striking the aural-visual grandeur is, but personally the finished product did not live up to the sum of its parts.

This review comes from a screening at the 57th BFI London Film Festival 2013 (LFF 2013).

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