An amiable surrealist joke, The Double stars Jesse Eisenberg as a shy, bumbling office drone named Simon James who becomes more than a little flustered when a new employee named James Simon shows up - looking pretty much exactly like Jesse Eisenberg, too.
An adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's 1866 doppelganger novella, realized in brownish shades of noir by the British director Richard Ayoade (2010's kooky coming-of-age comedy Submarine marked his feature debut), The Double doesn't get very deep, but it does get interesting.
Eisenberg's self-esteem-challenged Simon lives in a grim, Soviet-style apartment building. He keeps a telescope fixed on a window across the courtyard, where his pretty, cheery coworker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) resides in a matching pile of dim flats. Simon can barely muster the courage to squeak "Hello" to his dreamboat, but James soon is coaching him on what to say and what to do, to win her heart - and her body. (James is nothing if not crude.)
This being Dostoyevsky, things don't quite work out as planned: Before long, James is the one smooth-talking Hannah, and winning the admiration of the boss, Mr. Papadopoulos (Wallace Shawn). (The workplace being a retro-looking data processing service, where the computers thrum in bulky cannisters, illumined in sickly green, and where everyone sits in cubicles, surrounded by photographs of, and inspirational quotations from, the company's leader, "The Colonel.")
Like Hayley Mills in The Parent Trap, Eisenberg gets to play both sides of the coin: ego and alter ego, id and alter id. Insecure and increasingly aggrieved as Simon, cocky and brash as James. One fidgets nervously, the other casts his eyes about a room, sizing up what, and who, is in it for him.
Kafka-esque, Terry Gilliam-esque (Brazil), Charlie Kaufman-esque (remember Floor 71/2 in Being John Malkovich?), and David Lynch-ian, too, The Double plays like a nightmare that will leave you spooked, jittery, and confused. Well, that's how it plays for Simon, anyway. For everyone else, it should leave us simply amused.
The Double *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Richard Ayoade. With Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, Wallace Shawn. Distributed by Magnolia Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Bourse.