Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Written by: Richard Ayoade & Avi Korine
(based on the novella THE DOUBLE by Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Noah Taylor, Yasmin Paige, Cathy Moriarty, Phyllis Somerville, James Fox, Chris O’Dowd & Paddy Considine
Lynch, Cronenberg, and Gilliam. You don’t necessarily have to like their films to admit they’ve had a profound impact in creating surreal worlds. It’s no wonder that there’s at least one new filmmaker trying to emulate these three every year. Sometimes, it works out well (ANTIVIRAL, ENEMY) in telling an original untapped story in a viciously wild environment. Other times, you get something like THE DOUBLE. Richard Ayoade’s sophomore effort is trying far too hard to rank alongside classics like ERASERHEAD and BRAZIL. Not to point out the cruel irony of bad timing, but there’s already been a superior doppelganger film this year in ENEMY. Ayoade tries to inject dark comedy into his film but ultimately winds up with a bad flick…that happens to have good set design and atmosphere.
In a depressing future, Simon is a young man being ignored and abused by everyone in his life. He’s worked at a bureaucratic company for seven years, but remains unnoticed by his co-workers. Simon also has a crush on Hannah, a fellow co-worker and neighbor, and can’t muster up the confidence to talk to her. Things change when a young man named James is hired on at Simon’s company. James and Simon are exact doubles in appearance, thus causing an odd friendship to form between them. As things go in doppelganger stories though, events take a nasty turn and they two find themselves at each others’ throats in complicated revenge.
The nicest thing I can say about Richard Ayoade’s directing is that he knows exactly what kind of world he wanted to construct. The sets are simplistic, but also create a suffocating atmosphere. The color palette is a simple one. Everything consists of black, brown, white, gray, and puke colored variations of yellow and green. It’s a depressing industrialized future and this actually winds up being the best part of the film. It’s understandable why suicide is a common occurrence in this landscape. It’s a real shame that the lack of interesting characters and a familiar plot turn what might have been a successful homage to Gilliam into a boring endurance test. The main fault falls upon Jesse Eisenberg, who just isn’t compelling as either Simon or James. Eisenberg fails to elicit a single convincing emotion. He just comes off as phoning it in when he’s trying to be sad, funny or menacing. It may not have been Ayoade’s direct intention, but I didn’t care about Simon in the same way as those around him. I never once felt pity for his plights and actually wished the movie would kill him off quickly so it would end faster.
THE DOUBLE has been billed as a dark comedy/satire by many, but I didn’t laugh once. Every punchline the movie threw out was the same one-note joke. James is more confident and everyone loves him, but they ignore or put down his physical duplicate Simon. The “funny” scenes fall flat. As the movie goes further along and James becomes an antagonist, things spiral through the been-there done-that formula of doppelganger stories. ENEMY used the same sort of approach with two exact doubles meeting and one becoming an antagonist, but that was executed in a far more creepy and believable way. I realize Ayoade was trying for a dark comedic angle, but none of it worked. About 40 minutes in, the film had become so tedious and boring that nothing may have been able to save it.
THE DOUBLE has received a lot of praise from critics (following a festival run at both 2013’s Toronto International and 2014’s Sundance), but I’m going to side with the naysayers on this one. The sour taste left in my mouth after watching THE DOUBLE comes from a boring screenplay, bland characters, and ambition that doesn’t pay off. Ayoade has a knack for creative visuals, but maybe he should let someone else write the script next time or pick more original material. There’s a bleak world brought to life in THE DOUBLE, but I just wish the story was worthy of it.