On how Richard Ayoade creatively uses his comedic sensibilities to breathe life into a familiar concept.
“I’m like Pinocchio, a wooden boy. Not a real boy. And it kills me.”
Whoa. Am I supposed to have loved this as much as I did? A quick glance at the general critical response to Richard Ayoade’s sophomore feature before watching it seemed to indicate a solid, if divisive, film that was perhaps ‘too weird’ to be truly great. Turns out, that’s a load of bullshit as it’s easily one of the most captivating, intriguing and immersive thrillers I’ve seen in months. Take that, general critical response.
Right from the film’s opening scene, two things jumped out at me. The first was the stylish yet gloomy Orwellian world that Ayoade has constructed. The production design, set locations and lighting all contributed to the film’s authentic dystopian aesthetic – not unlike something out of a Terry Gilliam feature. The second thing was the black comedy. Ayoade’s comedic prowess is well-publicised from his days on The IT Crowd, but the seamless manner in which he’s able to blend it in to a world so bleak is absolutely remarkable.
A few light-hearted quips bear a nice little resemblance Edgar Wright’s quirky brand of humour, which just adds to their success. There are a few nice little nods to filmmakers & classics sprinkled throughout – including the visual paranoia of Hitchcock’s Rear Window and a spot of key-swapping that’s straight of out Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. None of these moments feel derivative, but rather speak volumes about Ayoade’s intelligence as a filmmaker. He reworks these tropes in his own unique way, while paying homage to what came before him.
The diametrically opposing characters of Simon and James are worth talking about too. They’re both strangely endearing – despite being pretty messed up people. You gravitate to the former because he’s a sad-sac. His rotten luck makes you pity him (and, in a way, relate to him), but he’s also a bit of a creep. The latter, meanwhile, is an arrogant tool – and has no business being liked by the audience. And yet, you still do – in a way – thanks to the sly (almost sinister) charm Jesse Eisenberg brings to the role.
Eisenberg deserves a great deal of credit for making both characters so watchable – and for enabling viewers to differentiate between the two of them while onscreen together (even while they’re wearing the same outfit). It’s an important reminder of just how important body language is to the way people perceive you. He and Ayoade feel like a perfect fit – much like the equally fast-talking Danny Pudi in the director’s brilliant My Dinner With Andre episode of Community. I’d love to see them work together more in future.
The concept of having an identical onscreen ‘double’ isn’t a new feature in cinema. Just a few months before The Double‘s release, Denis Villeneuve helmed the equally impressive Enemy. Even the main premise of this film was adapted from the work of Dostoyevsky. However, Ayoade ensures the experience feels as unique as possible with the help of his unique casting choices, some eye-popping camerawork from DP Erik Wilson and that brilliant sense of humour that makes him so endearing as a person. That’s what makes it such a creative adaptation.
I have a feeling we’ll be talking about Ayoade as a director-to-watch for many years to come.
Jesse Eisenberg might be one of my favorite actors currently working. He was the right blend of awkward & heartless in The Social Network, brought a genuinely endearing dorky humour to Columbus in Zombieland, and (in my eyes at least), stole the show as Lex in Batman v Superman. I even saw him on stage earlier this year acting off his own script in The Spoils. With all that considered, this might be his best performance. Yeah.