Richard Ayoade’s transformation from emerging Brit comedian to A-List director moves at pace, Getintothis’ Paul Baker on a warped dark comedy to match Being John Malkovich which should place its creator firmly in the IT Crowd.
Richard Ayoade, he of the big hair, geek-chic specs and unsure stare; he of Channel 4 comedy series The IT Crowd and Channel 5 programme Gadget Man; he’s a big time movie director now…
Having scored critical success with his Brit indie flick Submarine in 2010, he’s certainly operating from that box marked cult. However, his latest black comedy The Double, starring The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg, sees him rewrite the rules somewhat. He may be cult, be now he’s also cool.
The Double is based on a Fyodor Dostoyevsky novella, reinterpreted by Ayoade and scriptwriter Avi Korine (brother of US director ). Set in a timeless dystopia, this is a world that could never quite exist. It’s the sort of low-tech future that might have been imagined in the 1960s by the likes of BBC science show Tomorrow’s World, but thankfully it never came to pass.
Think David Lynch meets Terry Gilliam‘s Brazil and you’re pretty much there. This is a depressing, almost imprisoned world, which seems to exist in permanent darkness. The only other glimpses we get of this world are in underground stations, drab bars and cafes, or gothic subterranean offices.
The soundtrack is never silent, always there’s a foreboding background hum, perhaps of grinding machinery mixed with the occasional bark of a fox – or is it a woman’s scream? No wonder the police force has its own Suicide Division.
We’re guided through this grim world by Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) who spends his days being walked all over or, worse, plain ignored by colleagues and bosses at his numbingly dull office job.
He spends evenings looking through his telescope and spying (Rear Window-style) on his office-crush Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) who lives in the apartment opposite.
As if his life couldn’t get any worse, a new employee arrives at work called James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) who is everything Simon James is not. Cool, witty, confident and a ladies’ man, James threatens to usurp Simon’s position in the workplace and steal Hannah from under his nose. And, on top of all this, no-one seems to notice that James is an absolute dead ringer for Simon…
Cue a wonderful descent into madness, marked by a slick, black, extremely-funny script – allied to some confident and imaginative direction from Ayoade.
The leads are superb, especially Eisenberg who successfully pulls off the Jekyll and Hyde trick of being the nervous and unassuming Simon one minute, and the monstrous and charismatic James, the next.
The austere staging – blinking, buzzing lights; pipes that go nowhere, forever; dusty, failing technology – and supporting ensemble cast really aid the script’s wicked humour. Alongside IT Crowd cronies like Chris O’Dowd and Chris Morris, Ayoade fetches in the likes of comedian Tim Key and Dinosaur Jr frontman J Mascis, plus seasoned actors Paddy Considine and James Fox to provide quality cameo moments.
Other nice touches include a cheesy 1980s-style sci-fi show, which seems to be the only programme available to watch on the TV, itself a nod to Ayoade‘s breakthrough as part of spoof ’80s horror series Garth Merenghi‘s Darkplace.
Despite its grim premise and joyless surroundings, The Double manages to be both captivating, gripping, original and very funny. The atmosphere Ayoade conjures up is a joy to exist in for 93 minutes.
It’s probably as mesmerisingly strange and wonderful a visit to the cinema we’ve had since Spike Jonze‘s Being John Malkovich first warped our minds back in 1999.
If Ayoade continues down this road, he’ll be permanently swapping those NHS specs for a pair of Raybans and the LA sunshine in no time at all.
Further reading on Getintothis:
Science fiction and music: Ballard, Carpenter and the joy of synth
Goldfrapp present Tales Of Us: FACT, Liverpool
Only Lovers Left Alive: Jim Jarmusch, vampires and a little night music
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terence Nance‘s ode to humanity
Introducing Lapsley: The GIT Award 2014 One To Watch winner
Forest Swords wins GIT Award 2014 as Africa Oye team crowned Inspiration Award winners