Based on a novella by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this film concerns Simon James: a man who is anonymous, lonely and impotent in the constrained and prescribed world of a 1920s Orwellian future. He yearns for co-worker Hannah, but his crippling shyness prevents him from even talking to her.
One day a new worker called James Simon turns up in the office and he is the spitting image of Simon. His personality, however, is the complete opposite. James is confident, a hit with the ladies, doesn’t take any nonsense, a social climber: everything that Simon wants to be.
It’s directed by Richard Ayoade, a multi-talented man who apart from being a film and music video director also appeared in The I.T. Crowd and is a member of the Shaman Council as Saboo in The Mighty Boosh. He has Jesse Eisenberg as his leading man who plays the dual roles very well. He plays them very straight, especially Simon, and any laughs in the film are usually at the situation he finds himself in rather than physical comic acting. Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) plays a good contrasting character, similarly lonely but with a lot more confidence than Simon.
The visuals are impressive and allied with the soundtrack create a pleasingly strange world of contrasting repeating geometric patterns, muted colours in the foreground with bold primary colours in the background and industrial sounds leaking from one scene to the next. This place is a mash-up of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and David Lynch’s Eraserhead and has lots of very talented people calling in for cameos: Wallace Shawn is great, pretty much reprising his role as the yappy boss from The Incredibles, J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. appears as a janitor, Paddy Considine appears on the telly and Chris Morris and Tim Key are on screen far too briefly.
With all these great elements thrown into the mix, sadly it comes out a little bit without direction and purpose. The story never quite takes off and it’s all a bit one-note.
It’s a bit like a good looking pizza with far too many toppings. You like all the ingredients, but couldn’t really sink your teeth into any one of them. You leave the restaurant full up but a little disappointed.
2 on 5
Directed by: Richard Ayoade
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, James Fox, J Mascis, Chris Morris, Yasmin Paige, Tim Key UK Release: 4th April 2014