After his acclaimed drama Submarine, actor-turned-filmmaker Richard Ayoade applies his considerable visual skills to this striking blackly comical adaptation of Dostoevsky's novella. Bristling with wit and snappy details, the film's style overwhelms its emotional core, leaving us unable to feel the punch of this odyssey about a young man wrestling with his own identity.
Jesse Eisenberg stars as Simon, a loner who's still anonymous at work after seven years in his desk job. Secretly in love with the copy girl Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), he watches her through a telescope from his flat and digs through her rubbish. Then just as he's assigned to mentor the surly teen daughter (Yasmin Paige) of his manager (Wallace Shawn), James meets new employee Simon (also Eisenberg), a mirror image of himself who is far more confident, fun-loving and, yes, popular with everyone in the office.
Ayoade designs the film like a drab variation on Terry Gilliam's Brazil (and more recently The Zero Theorem), with that same claustrophobic sense of overcrowded anonymity and Kaflaesque bureaucracy. It's not particularly original, but it is fun to watch, especially on a big screen where we can take in the detailed sets and costumes, as well as a steady procession of amusing cameos from the likes of Chris O'Dowd and Submarine stars Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor and Craig Roberts. All of this adds to the general chaos of Simon's life, as well as his deep urban angst. But we're too distracted to properly sympathise with him.
Part of the problem is that, like everyone else, we like the unpredictable James a lot more than the stalkerish Simon. So it's understandable that Hannah would rather hang out with James. Eisenberg is terrific in both roles, which are of course two sides of the same man. And as the film progresses, it cleverly blurs the line between them. So it's a bit frustrating that everything remains so strangely murky, entertaining us with sparky humour and lively characters but never quite tapping into the underlying resonance.
Run time: 98 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th October 2011
Box Office USA: $0.1M
Distributed by: Image Entertainment
Production compaines: Alcove Entertainment, Attercop Productions, British Film Institute (BFI)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 20%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 37
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Richard Ayoade
Producer: Amina Dasmal, Robin C. Fox
Screenwriter: Richard Ayoade, Avi Korine
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg as Simon / James, Mia Wasikowska as Hannah, Wallace Shawn as Mr. Papadopoulos, Noah Taylor as Harris, Rade Šerbedžija as Frightening Old Man, Yasmin Paige as Melanie Papadopoulos, James Fox as The Colonel, Nathalie Cox as Jack's wife, Phyllis Somerville as Simon's Mother
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