Directed by The IT Crowd‘s Richard Ayoade, and adapted into a film based on the classic novella of the same name by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Double tells of a nervous, depressed individual named Simon James who feels desperately haunted by his loneliness and invisibility at work and by the woman he loves. Then one day a new employee starts up at his company, a man named James Simon, who looks exactly like him in every way, much to Simon’s absolute terror. The main difference between the two men lies in James’ character, being the polar opposite of Simon in every way. Confident, aggressive and charismatic, James is everything Simon always wished he could be.
Simon’s co-workers’ apparent lack of recognition that this new employee James exactly resembles him only adds to Simon’s shock, even more so when everyone seems overcome with fondness for this new version of himself. At first, the relationship between the two seems like one of brothers, working together to help one another out, however this goes awry when James steals the girl that Simon is in love with, Hannah, and takes credit for Simon’s ideas at work.
There is never an explanation as to where this person came from, nor why nobody in his workplace seems to acknowledge that the two look exactly alike. James seems to have some knowledge that Simon doesn’t, about why he exists and what he must do, while there’s just an acceptance of this new character until such a time that Simon realises he must defeat James in order to get his life back.
The entire film is incredibly uncomfortable and disturbing in the way that it’s shot – very sleek and quick scene cuts reminding me of Edgar Wright’s work. It’s host to some brilliant cinematography, the darkness prevalent in every scene and the strange, almost post-apocalyptic setting of workplace and home adding to the off-putting nature of the film. The lighting techniques used are superb and incredibly deliberate, and combined with an amazing, unique soundtrack, the effect is just sublime. Jesse Eisenberg’s performance is spot on, nailing both the timid Simon James and his twin counterpart, the aggressively confident James Simon. Mia Wasikowska is wonderful as Simon’s love interest, a character also filled with dark thoughts and depression.
The Double absolutely oozes originality and we’re left with a movie experience unique in its ability to draw you in and keep you there, battling through the tension and confusion to see what happens next. This film is classified as a comedy, and it’s certainly amusing at points, but this classification may be inappropriate considering the genuine discomfort one feels throughout the entire thing. At no point in the film are you offered any clear answers, and as a result this film looms in one’s mind long after the screening is over.
A seemingly odd choice for this festival, and certainly the only one of its kind here, Drinking Buddies is a romantic comedy set in a craft beer factory in Chicago, and focuses on the relationship between friends Kate and Luke, played by Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson.
Director Joe Swanberg took a minimalistic approach script-wise in this film, allowing the actors to improvise the vast majority of the scenes, and the result is an honest portrayal of the complexity of human relationships by very real characters and believable performances, that doesn’t glaze over the mundane facets of the lives we lead.
In the press conference, producer Alicia Van Couvering reveals that the film was not exactly scripted but rather Swanberg based dialogue upon “a sentence on a piece of paper” which evolved into a “scriptment” with limited direction, allowing the actors to improvise. The problem with this approach is that most of the time, everyday life is pretty unexciting, and that’s what we see in the film: largely unexciting, underwhelming scenes. That being said, the two main characters are very watchable, endearing in their natural fondness for one another, and the happiness they share in each other’s company is very believable. The only thing keeping viewers hanging on through the tedious conversations and non-events is waiting to see whether Jake and Kate end up together.
To the film’s credit, Jake’s girlfriend Jill (played by Anna Kendrick) is not portrayed as a dull character – she is interesting and complicated, and clearly loved by Jake. This maintains the believability of this film, given that feelings and relationships are rarely black and white as often portrayed in the stock standard romantic comedy. We are left with neither a happy nor a sad ending, no ending at all in fact, rather a trailing off. Relationships are not always simple, and although at times unexciting, Drinking Buddies does succeed in challenging the stereotypes we’re presented with in modern films about how relationships work.
On her first trip to Japan, producer ALICIA VAN COUVERING talks about the audience reception to the Tokyo TIFF screening: “It’s been amazing, I didn’t expect it. This is the first time the film’s been played internationally – the other time was in London. It’s an American film, American relationships, American lifestyles. The idea that it would translate so well is amazing – the audiences have been incredible. I want to move here.”
About the decision to keep Anna Kendrick’s Jill an interesting character: “That was very deliberate. When the director Joe Swanberg was designing the film he was thinking about films from the ‘70s like The Heartbreak Kid that are adult movies about relationships. We wanted to make a rom-com that felt like a rom-com but had real characters and relationships. Structurally, the film sets up that Jill will be the boring girlfriend and that Kate and Jake will fall in love. At the midpoint you realise that won’t happen and that starts to subvert the genre. That was deliberate and something I’m proud of. You start out watching a romantic comedy but end up with something more serious and adult, at least that’s what we hoped.”
About the reasons for having the craft beer factory setting, having Jill as a special education teacher, and the presence of art books: “The entire film is improvised. Joe starts with basic idea of characters and who they’re gonna be. Joe himself is a home brewer, his wife bought him a home brewery kit for Christmas and he became obsessed with craft beer. Anna’s character (Jill) is based on Joe’s wife who is a teacher… She and Anna spent a lot of time together. There is a real culture of artisanal everything in Chicago, handmade everything – it’s very trendy. Chris (Swanberg’s wife) has her own ice cream brand, Joe makes beer. A lot of the identity you see in the film is part of all these characters… Anna’s character wants a very traditional life, (she) wants marriage and a kid, but wants it in the new way, her own special hand-crafted way.”
About casting: “It was a very low-budget production – we couldn’t pay the stars anything. Joe had just signed with an agency and knew that he wanted to make a big film, so he had a relationship with Mark Bennett who cast The Hurt Locker. He set him up with meetings on Skype with actors. Anyone can improvise, and he was looking for people who have a life outside the movie business, and things to say about their own relationships. The cast signed on really fast just based on meetings, with only vague ideas of who their characters were meant to be. Jake was excited that he would be able to drink beer all the time. Except for Jake, none of the actors had ever done a fully improvised film, so I think it was a challenge.”
Asked if the cast were aware of director Joe Swanberg’s creative approach before shooting: “No, nobody knew. Now after Drinking Buddies, they do, but before then, he didn’t have much of a profile in LA among agencies. He’s very well known in indie films and festivals, but he had avoided any sort of Hollywood stuff. Olivia Wilde’s boyfriend, Jason, apparently was really familiar with Joe and he told her to watch the films. Then Jason ended up being in the film because he was in town, so we forced him to be in it! Joe is a very charismatic person, and something that I underestimated was the amount of experience that he had with actors. He’s done so many films. It’s always possible that the actors are gonna dominate the director, but from the first moment on the set, Joe was so confident working with the actors, that the whole cast just relaxed. Everybody knew that it wasn’t gonna be their job to write the movie, Joe knew exactly what he wanted even though it was improvised. I think that helped everyone to have a lot of fun – that and the beer!”
About Swanberg’s improvisational approach: “It’s interesting because all of Joe’s previous films had been a sentence on a piece of paper, and in those cases he was shooting completely sequentially. They would wake up every day, talk about the film, then shoot for a few hours then hang out and keep getting to know each other. This film also started out as a sentence, but by the time it was shot it had been fleshed out into a “scriptment.” This was a scene by scene outline, but then some pages just said things like “They fight.” The actors weren’t allowed to see the scriptment, they only saw things like “They talk,” “They fight,” “They work together.” My least favourite kind of improv is when actors are trying to write, they’re trying to figure out what going to happen next in the film, so Joe’s method is very interesting. Occasionally they change the story, but on this one I don’t think they ever did.”
About the film’s ending: “This was not the original ending. There was another ending that made it a little more clear that the relationship was changing. They were at a bar and Jake was letting Kate go in a really clear way, and I never even saw that scene. When we were filming it, it was so sad. Joe never even showed that to us, it was way too sad. He knew that he wanted the movie to end hopeful, and it’s not really an ending – you know that the relationship is gonna go on and that their lives are complicated.”