Twitch editor Todd Brown remembers the mixed reactions to Richard Ayoade’s debut feature, Submarine, when it premiered in Toronto in 2010: “On one side there were those—myself very much among them—who simply adored the film and considered it one of the most promising debut features in quite some time from a director who clearly was well on his way to forming a fresh and distinct voice. On the other side were those who considered it too twee, too indebted to Wes Anderson… Well, Ayoade is back now with film number two, The Double…. And now it can be said definitively: My side of the argument around Submarine was absolutely correct, those who dismissed Ayoade as an Anderson clone were wildly wrong, and what we have here is a fiercely intelligent, hugely idiosyncratic talent who is seemingly capable of going in any great number of directions and making all of them entirely his own.”
The Double “lays Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella out in a nowhere land of office bureaucracy,” writes Henry Barnes in the Guardian, where, by the way, he gives the film five out of five stars. “Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a skivvying 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’ doppelgänger, who arrives unannounced, wins over the boss and immediately starts dating Hannah. No-one reacts to the duplication, because Simon’s such a nobody…. The Double mirrors aspects of Gilliam, Gondry and the Coen brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy. Ayoade shares those directors’ intricacy…. The Double isn’t an original idea. It wasn’t even in Dostoyevsky’s time. But it’s a great story. And Ayoade has produced a brilliant copy.”
“Ayoade’s care with the movie’s craft is loving and infectious,” writes Tim Robey in the Telegraph: “the feel of a hermetic, Stygian netherworld is perfectly achieved on the budget, and a grippingly nervy chamber score by Andrew Hewitt keeps it ticking along. Single-scene cameos from the director’s old chums Chris O’Dowd (as a callous doctor) and Sally Hawkins (as a dismal receptionist) function as handy distractions from its deliberately frazzling plot, and Paddy Considine has a blast as a cheesy TV-serial action hero. Where it’ll lose some viewers is how hard it is, after a while, to care whether Simon or James has clawed back the upper hand. A film for Ayoade connoisseurs, then, but not one to win him new fans.”
An A- from Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn: “Cinematographer Erik Wilson captures the expressionistic claustrophobia of this scenario with heavy dark patches that dominate the halls and alleyways surrounding Simon’s world—it’s always nighttime and the streets are filled with fog—while punctuating the inky palette with neon blues and reds that occasionally brighten up the scene to reflect Simon’s undulating disposition. In tune with the visuals, Eisenberg’s typically nervous tics take on a more somber, introspective quality than usual, calling to mind the similarly meta aspects of Adam Sandler’s turn in Punch Drunk Love.”
Another A- from the Playlist‘s Kevin Jagernauth, who “can’t remember the last film that strode on the screen so boldly with a promise to present something totally different, and delivering so completely.”
More from Linda Holmes (NPR; “very odd, genuinely offbeat”), Allan Hunter (Screen; “a wildly eccentric, exhausting existential comedy”) and Norm Wilner at Now Toronto: “Arch, weird and very, very funny, it’s like watching an entire Bulgarian film festival in a single sitting.”
The Double‘s a Special Presentation in Toronto.
Updates, 9/11: “The atmosphere is dank and claustrophobic, the action unfolding against what seems to be a permanent nightscape,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “David Crank’s stripped-down production design, more retro than futuristic, looks at once drab and ravishing as lensed by d.p. Erik Alexander, who accents every shabby interior with a vibrant burst of color. From start to finish, the loosely handheld camera seems to mirror Simon’s unsettled psyche, feverishly darting and cutting around the action, often operatically amped up by Andrew Hewitt’s thunderous orchestral score.”
Update, 9/12: “There’s not a whole lot to this version of The Double,” writes Ben Kenigsberg at the AV Club, “but its visual comedy and offhand surrealism make it a mild pleasure.”
Update, 9/14: Wesley Morris at Grantland: “Ayoade knows how to break up space for comedy—he’s Jacques Tati through a box grater. You can almost dance to this movie. And here Eisenberg gets a well-written part, something that lets him stammer and react and power-walk, something that lets him think. Right now, no American actor seems smarter.”
Updates, 9/17: “One of the most striking things about Ayoade’s second feature The Double,” argues Calum Marsh at Film.com, “is how its intellectual and emotional aspirations instantly make those suppressed by Submarine more apparent. Despite a somewhat rough start, The Double confirms handily that Ayoade is indeed the real deal, an ambitious young filmmaker working in a register shared by far too few of his contemporaries. The level of this second film’s craft becomes clear almost the moment it begins: the world he has constructed, a kind of purgatorial headspace soaked in harsh amber light and cobbled together from spare parts, has a tactile, remarkably lived-in feel, conveying at a glance in atmosphere what the film will go on to elaborate on a conceptual and thematic level.”
“Whatever one thinks of the film’s later plot developments,” writes Kenji Fujishima at In Review Online, “Ayoade’s ceaseless visual invention remains consistently enchanting even at its most despairing.”
“Ayoade’s chief accomplishment in The Double is a remarkably sharper display of his self-deprecating humor, a perfect fit for Eisenberg’s natural garrulous cadence,” writes Tina Hassannia at the House Next Door.
“This particular world will be too suffocating for some moviegoers, but Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska in the leads should attract enough attention to help the psychological parable find its audience,” predicts John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter.
Update, 10/23: “Richard Ayoade’s second feature will draw comparisons with Brazil in the way it posits its hero amidst an unforgiving and absurdist bureaucratic nightmare,” suggests James Rocarols in the Critic’s Notebook. “In fact, The Double recalls several films visually and tonally, notably some works of Roman Polanski’s and Orson Welles’s The Trial in particular. Some may be surprised by Mr. Ayoade’s cine-literacy and visual expressiveness, certainly in comparison with his first film, Submarine, which was generally rooted in the humble origins of small-scale British comic drama, despite its lush cinematography and Wes Anderson-esque flourishes. This redoubling of cinematic flamboyance from the former comedian and actor may raise some eyebrows in Britain; while not being as incongruous a cultural rebirth as Takeshi Kitano’s was to Japanese audiences, it’s still roughly akin to Americans imagining, say, that Aziz Ansari had directed a film like Black Swan.”