Jesse Eisenberg in dual roles as a loser and his go-getter doppelganger is the best thing about this uneven second feature from former IT Crowd star Richard Ayoade.
With echoes of The Hudsucker Proxy and Terry Gilliam's Brazil, Richard Ayoade’s loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella is so offbeat it's in danger of slipping by un-noticed. That would be a shame because Jesse Eisenberg’s dual role as put-upon office loser Simon James (sounds like a polytechnic supply teacher) and thrusting young turk James Simon (sounds like a suave ladykiller) is a real acting sleight of hand.
When we meet Simon he is a crumpled husk of humanity stuck in the Groundhog grind of the daily commute. He is quickly relieved of his seat in an empty train carriage by an Alpha male. It’s just the start of another grey day of injustices - minor and major.
His mother despises him, his workmates think he’s pond-life, and he whiles away his empty days stuck in an anonymous office committed to some hellish and unnamed number-crunching pursuit that owes much to Orwell and Gilliam.
That is until the arrival of James, his exact double. Well, his exact double in appearance. This new boy is a smart go-getter who finds instant favour with empty-headed middle management and even catches the eye of the corporate head honcho, played with distant hauteur by James Fox.
Ayoade’s been here before with The IT Crowd, a show that filleted middle-management vacuity and bureaucratic bullshit but this is more a story of split personality. Does Simon’s abdication of responsibility for his own destiny actually will James into life? Are there other versions of ourselves out there, spinning in the ether and waiting to be fired up into our Promethean alter egos?
There are sly laughs to be had when the loser gives his less intelligent double lessons in how to take full advantage of their extraordinary situation and when the double manipulates the loser to his own nefarious ends.
Mia Wasikowska hits the perfect pitch as the cute nerd photocopier girl (geddit?) who politiely tolerates Simon but becomes besotted by James and Ayoade is to be congratulated for the look and feel of The Double. The buidlings all have an Airstrip One brutality, bakelite knobs abound, and the hulking antique computers are like something from a retro-futuristic ad campaign from the year 1984.
This is Eisenberg at his very best but Ayoade's adaptation can be jerky and unsatisfying in its Kafkaesque kookiness.