An existential jest set in a bureaucratic dystopia so familiar and lightly comic it may as well be Kafka Fantasy Camp, Richard Ayoade's often marvelous The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as a beleaguered schlemiel whose life is upended by a stranger who is identical to him in every way -- just somehow better. These dueling Eisenbergs are indistinguishable from each other, right down to hair (shaggy) and costume (comically oversized ’80s suit). But one’s the toast of the office complex they work in, while the other’s a yearning nobody clerk of the sort common in Eastern European lit. He has to sign in as a visitor with his office’s security guard because, even after years of toil there, he’s not in "the system."
That system, like the film's whole world, is like a Soviet 2014 as imagined by a Commodore 64 in 1982 -- it's chintzy, clunky, 8-bit. If the story and milieu are familiar, the look is worth sinking into.
Ayoade, the director of Submarine, and his co-writer Avi Korine, have based The Double on a short novel by Dostoyevsky, which itself was inspired by the alienated fantasies of Gogol. For all that, the The Double often feels as indebted to Brazil and Delicatessen as it does to those geniuses -- it's sometimes a dazzling astonishment but also occasionally too much, so over-directed that watching it can feel like reading something typed with the caps lock on, especially toward the end, when Ayoade's inventive repetition starts to feel like just repetition. But most of its 90 minutes tremble with wit and welcome ambition.
Richard AyoadeJesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Yasmin Paige, Noah Taylor, James Fox, Cathy Moriarty, Chris O'Dowd, Sally Hawkins, Craig RobertsMagnolia Pictures