The Big Issue : Edition 458
32 THEBIGISSUE9–22MAY2014 GENTEEL AND INTELLIGENT, cool and considered: there’s no mistaking that the voice on the other end of the line belongs to Richard Ayoade. You might recognise his distinctive inflection as that of uber-nerd Moss from British comedy series The IT Crowd, but these days the actor and comedian is turning his talents to writing and directing. In 2010, he made his feature debut with an adaptation of Joe Dunthorne’s whimsical coming-of-age tale, Submarine. Four years later, he returns with another literary reworking, this time levelling his wry wit at Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1846 novella, The Double. Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a hapless government clerk invisible to everyone around him, including the copy room girl (Mia Wasikowska) he covets from a nervous distance. Simon’s inconspicuous life is thrown into turmoil when his physical double arrives at his workplace. Confident, seductive and conniving, James Simon (also played by Eisenberg) is Simon’s doppelganger and complete opposite. Living a waking nightmare, Simon finds that nobody cares when James starts taking over his life. Renowned for his work on cult British TV favourites such as The Mighty Boosh and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Ayoade’s decision to adapt a Russian classic may seem like an incongruous step down a bleaker path. In his hands, however, Dotstoyevsky’s psychological thriller becomes a triumph in black comedy. “Dostoyevsky is funny because he’s so good at mining people’s personal pomposities and puffed-up-ness,” Ayoade explains. “It sounds like it’s difficult, because it’s Russian and old, but in Notes from the Underground he has this long thing about how someone was so offended that someone bumps into them that they spend the next year Double Trouble trying to bump back into that person, which seems like a Larry David revue.” Avi Korine – who co-wrote the screenplay for The Double with Ayoade – first introduced Dostoyevsky’s text to the director, saying that the central character would be a “good role for an actor”. He wasn’t wrong. Eisenberg is often cast as either anxious – as in his role as teen amusement-park attendant James Brennan in Adventureland (2009) – or arrogant – as with illusionist J Daniel Atlas in Now You See Me (2013). Here he gets to be both bold and bumbling, a duality the film draws on for both comedic and dramatic purposes. While Dostoyevsky played with language to differentiate the two characters in the novella, Eisenberg brings a distinct physicality, delivery and cadence to each of the roles. He manages to distinguish the malevolence of James from the endearing and pathetic sincerity WITH HIS SECOND FEATURE FILM, THE DOUBLE, WRITER- DIRECTOR RICHARD AYOADE TACKLES DOSTOYEVSKY – AND HE’S OUTDONE HIMSELF.