As the twitchy, nervous Simon Jesse Eisenberg adds another neurotic oddball to his gallery of ill at ease young men. Simon is a clerical worker in a claustrophobic, Kafkaesque office, and despite working there for 7 years, he is told by the taciturn security man sign the visitor’s book every morning when he arrives at work. His manager (Wallace Shawn) never remembers his name and gives him no credit for the work he does. He is besotted with a pretty woman who works in the photocopy room, but she unsurprisingly takes little notice of him. Even his mother, who lives in a care home, is not fond of him. He watches his pretty co-worker in her apartment across from his at night, so in addition to being of generally creepy demeanour, he’s also a pathetic peeping tom.
His life is turned upside down by the arrival one day of new colleague James, who looks exactly like Simon. James is everything Simon is not, namely charming and politically adept with upper management, and a great seducer of females. James manipulates the initially eager Simon into doing his work for him, taking an aptitude test for him, and acting as his wing man when he is on the pull. Simon soon realises that James is in fact taking over his life, or living a version of his life that Simon aspires to but has no possibility of actually achieving.
This is paranoia played for laughs, with a very different tone from the much more sinister source material. Eisenberg has a lot of fun playing Simon and James, and skilfully makes the characters distinctive all the time they’re on screen together, and Mia Wasikowska is endearing as the object of Simon’s affections who falls head over heels for the slick James. The other real star of the film is the production design, built around a sort of retro futurism/ Stalinist mix that will no doubt reveal lots of fun details on subsequent viewings.