Cinema Review: The Double

thedouble

DIR: Richard Ayoade • WRI: Richard Ayoade , Avi Korine • PRO: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox • DOP: Erik Wilson • ED: Nick Fenton • MUS: Andrew Hewitt • DES: David Crank • CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Chris O’ Dowd, Sally Hawkins

Judged purely by the trailers, you would be forgiven for thinking Richard Ayoade’s latest movie was a simple comedy about mistaken identities.  However, there is a real depth to The Double that goes beyond laughs, and connects much more firmly with the grotesquery of its base material – the seminal, and surreal, Dostoyevsky novella.  By combining the ridiculous with the existential, Ayoade has managed to create a coherent dystopian future that seems to derive directly from the present – which means the humour can sometimes appear more like hysterical terror.

 

The film focuses on Simon (Jesse Eisenberg), a spineless lackey in an oversized suit who struggles through the daily grind of cubicle life in a soulless office, where his work is underappreciated and he is ignored by all and sundry.  Into his grey life comes Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), a fresh and vibrant woman who defies the darkness of their colourless world.  However, she is at pains to make it clear from the outset that she is nobody’s saviour – Hannah cannot function as the only bright light in a dismal existence, and it is up to Simon to find his own path to self-identity.  Simon’s journey is vastly complicated by the intrusion of a brash and successful James  into his life – everyone loves James, and at first even Simon is in thrall to him too.  He is everything Simon is not – confident, likeable and assured…with the added complication that he is also the exact double of Simon, something only he seems to see.  Simon’s journey of self-discovery is thus derailed by James’ appropriation of his dreams and hopes, with vastly better results than Simon has ever managed.  As James brings Simon from crisis to crisis, leaving devastation in his path, Simon must question whether any attention is better than the life of anonymity he had previously been experiencing.  Is James a better ‘him’, or is he an unredeemable doppelganger, sent to torment his life and usurp his world?

 

Jesse Eisenberg is faced with the unenviable task of playing two diametrically opposed characters, who happen to star in almost every scene together – and it is a feat he manages with considerable aplomb.  His downcast features perfectly encapsulate Simon’s crushed hopes and spiritless mentality, while at the same time the smug smirk and cocky manner he has previously used to such great effect just as equally embodies the charismatic and self-satisfied character of James.  Ably abetted by a deep and emotional performance from Wasikowska as Hannah, Eisenberg’s Simon and James are immediately recognisable as separate people – no easy feat when someone has ‘stolen your face’.  Ayoade has also coaxed subtle performances from the supporting cast; the always-gratifying Wallace Shawn as Simon’s kinetic boss Mr. Papadopoulos and the beautiful Yasmin Paige, making a welcome return to Ayoade’s template as the bored Melanie Papadopoulos, shine in particular.  As is generally the case in British film, Ayoade’s comedy friends make brief appearances – popping up in odd places for the occasional giggle, though thankfully never stealing scenes as superfluous cameos…there is no silly Anchorman-style redundant humour to be found in Ayoade’s world.

 

Those expecting the romantic warmth of Submarine, Ayoade’s previous movie, are likely to be disappointed, as The Double focuses more heavily on the absence of meaning than the restorative powers of love.  That’s not to say that this is a movie without hope, though, and Ayoade is at pains to differentiate his interpretation from Dostoyevsky’s gloomy outlook on the possibility of humanity in crushing systems of bureaucracy.  In this, Ayoade proves himself to be taking the surrealist mantle from Terry Gilliam in terms of escape from dystopia:  in the end, no matter how soulless humanity may appear, it only takes one real connection to make the difference.  A solid exploration of the path to identity from an exciting and innovative director, The Double manages the very great task of making terrifying dystopian futures feel very present, whilst ensuring we can still occasionally laugh about our impending doom.

 Sarah Griffin

16 (See IFCO for details)
92 mins

The Double is released on 4th April 2014

The Double – Official Website

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Made in Dagenham

Made in Dagenham

DIR: Nigel Cole • WRI: Billy Ivory • PRO: Elizabeth Karlsen, Stephen Woolley • DOP: John de Borman • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike, Jaime Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff, John Sessions, Kenneth Cranham

Made in Dagenham is the latest offering from director Nigel Cole. The story is a dramatic interpretation of the 1968 strike at the Ford Dagenham car plant. Here we see more than just 187 women walking out in protest against sexual discrimination. We see these women struggle for equality in every sense, from equality in their wage packets, to equality of the mind. Cole is oddly attuned to depicting female struggles and triumphs, having directed Calendar Girls and Saving Grace previously, with Made in Dagenham he again shows a gift for making something exceptional from the everyday.

1968 saw a record number of union conflicts and strike action, but nothing quite like Dagenham, in which women came into direct conflict with management, unions, husbands, etc. in order to make themselves heard. Cole does an excellent job of portraying the strife of the workers, whilst retaining enough humour to make a film which is as emotive as it is nostalgic. Costumes, music and masterful acting combine to perfectly evoke the atmosphere of the era. We learned from Calendar Girls that Cole knows how to portray ‘no nonsense’ women, and Made in Dagenham is no different.

Sally Hawkins gives an incredible performance as Rita O’Grady, a shy and well-mannered worker subjected to harsh working conditions who dramatically finds her voice in the face of adversity and leads her fellow workers in their fight. O’Grady is the most likeable of the female cast and is the stand-out performer throughout. Hawkins portrays the tension between O’Grady and her husband and co-worker beautifully, and they become some of the most powerful scenes.

Jaime Winstone gives a great performance, but her character’s feistiness seems one-dimensional and lacks the heart of other characters. Whilst her presence does move the story forward, she is ultimately more likable when being hunted by zombies in the Big Brother house. In a film which depicts the struggle of 187 women, it comes as a slight disappointment that whilst only some can be featured from necessity, few are truly fleshed out and likeable characters.

Ironically for a movie which centres on a very female struggle, Bob Hoskins steals the show somewhat in his scenes as Albert, a wise and unassuming union man who comes to support the women’s cause when he relates these young women to the hard-working women in his own life. Hoskins and Hawkins make the film infinitely more beautiful through their performances, unfortunately leaving all other characters behind.

Whilst Made in Dagenham is an enjoyable and atmospheric piece, character development suffers in its desire to include a large ensemble cast. Had the focus been on fewer characters, we may have gained more insight into them as individuals. Cole’s directorial style suits the needs of his subject matter and here we see him as an expert at avoiding the cliché pitfalls of the genre. Made in Dagenham is an emotional and nostalgic snapshot of an era that will induce as many chuckles as gasps.

Ciara Lianne O’Brien

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
Made in Dagenham
is released on 1st October 2010

Made in Dagenham Official Website

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Happy Ever Afters

Happy Ever Afters

DIR/WRI: Stephen Burke • PRO: Lesley McKimm, Alex Ward • DOP: Jonathan Kovel • ED: Guido Krajewski • CAST: Sally Hawkins, Tom Riley, Sinead Maguire, Jade Yourell, Ariyon Bakare

Recipe for a Screwball Comedy:

Take one anti-heroic male who is under the thumb of a dominating fiancée.

Submit him to ritualistic humiliation in a series of zany events.

Allow the male to become involved in a woman-dominated courtship, during which, as the two are drawn to each other, they do not simply surrender to their feelings, they literally battle it out – usually to the physical detriment of the man.

Liberally sprinkle with eccentric characters.

Place all ingredients in the oven and wait as the free-spirited female liberates the victimized feckless male.

After an hour and a half, take out from the oven and let stand.

Garnish with the triumph of love.

Happy Ever Afters takes that 30’s Hollywood screwball formula and gives it a modern-day, Irish context. The ‘Afters’ of the title refers to a double-booked wedding reception at a hotel. One wedding involves our anti-hero Freddie (Tom Riley), marrying his divorced wife again in an effort to make it work. The other involves our free spirit Maura (Sally Hawkins), who is marrying for money. Through a series of madcap events the two find what they are really looking for in each other.

Written and directed by Stephen Burke, Happy Ever Afters proves itself to be quite an enjoyable attempt to bring to the screen the comic (and tragic) potential that exists at most wedding receptions. Indeed, many are ‘traumedies’ waiting to happen. Burke knows his screwball and he packs in a decent amount of visual and verbal gags to maintain a good pace. Riley and Hawkins play out the dysfunctional comic courtship well and are helped along by the oddball collection of friends and family. The voice of reason throughout all the mayhem is Maura’s 8-year-old daughter, Molly (Sinead Maguire), who ends up saving the day. Maguire puts in her own terrific comic performance amidst all the irrationality and surely has a great future in front of her.

Taken at face value, Happy Ever Afters has a lot going for it, not least the two lead performances. Screwball comedies often lack any real substance as the focus is laid on quickly developed and contrived situations and quirky one-dimensional personalities to the detriment of characterization and plot. Happy Ever Afters is no exception. A major flaw with the film is the woeful underwriting of Maura’s situation with husband-to-be Wilson (Ariyon Bakare), who has promised Maura  €9,000 to marry him so that he can avoid being deported. Wilson’s girlfriend Emily (Phina Oruche) is at the wedding and it’s a shame Burke didn’t develop this particular triangle. Certain scenes could easily have been ditched and Oruche’s character should have been developed into a more central character, which would have offered the narrative much more comic scope.

Still, Burke has followed the screwball recipe well and promises to be a decent chef in the future.

Steven Galvin

Rated 12a (see IFCO website for details)

Happy Ever Afters is released 25th Dec 2009

Happy Ever Afters – Official Website

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