The Voices (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Marjane Satrapi and starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith, Paul Chahidi, Stanley Townsend, Adi Shankar, Sam Spruell, Valerie Koch and Gulliver McGrath
If popular entertainment is an accurate gauge of the moment’s cultural zeitgeist, 2015 must be the era of cynicism. Long gone are the days when the public demanded their entertainment focused on clean cut characters like Heathcliff Huxtable and Superman, nowadays its gruff, anti-social types like House and Batman whose popularity is at an all time high. The most popular shows currently on television feature a gluttony of highly flawed anti-heroes like Walter White, Don Draper and Francis Underwood, all characters that gain even more of the audience’s rapt attention with each act of depravity. Marjane Satrapi’s film The Voices looks to put our appetite for moral ambiguity to the test. In The Voices, Satrapi gives us a film about a really nice guy that commits intolerable acts and in doing so, the movie asks the audience some difficult questions about the nature of guilt and the extent of our capacity for compassion.
In The Voices, Ryan Reynolds plays Jerry, a socially awkward man who remains positively upbeat despite living in a miserable small town and working a dead end job in a bathtub factory. Jerry’s chipper demeanor is the result of him no longer taking his court-mandated medication, leading to his subconscious thoughts manifesting as the voices of his good-natured dog Bosco and sociopathic pet cat Mr. Whiskers (both voiced by Ryan Reynolds). While out on the town with his office crush Fiona (Gemma Arterton), an accident occurs that forces Jerry to chose between going back on his meds and suffering through life while trying to cope with the world that emotionally damaged him or staying on his comfortably delusional un-medicated path.
I take issue with calling this film a black comedy. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a way to convey humor in a story about a likeable serial killer, however, I did not find much to laugh at in this particular story about a likeable serial killer. I was unable to grasp the humour in the unmedicated Jerry’s perpetually sunny, butterfly inhabited world because as a viewer peeking into his mind I could only see an extremely sad and lonely place. So far this year, no other scene in a film punched me in the gut as hard as the moment Jerry experiences the heartbreaking reality of his wretched living conditions after his meds first take effect. Seeing Jerry’s anguish as he immediately yearned for the deranged manner in which he previously dealt with life depicted a soul crushing moment that I would not wish on anyone. The world as seen through Jerry’s eyes showers the audience in his blissful ignorance in a manner that almost entirely washes away the accountability for his misdeeds.
The Voices is not nearly as cute as the film thinks it is. Misjudging itself becomes an issue because The Voices never attains the amount of levity required to buffer the harsh impact the audience incurs from the films drastic shift in tone. In the third act, The Voices reaches an exceptionally dark place and in doing so does away with all of the interesting statements that the film was making regarding Jerry’s conflicting feelings about his nature. By the end of the film, things get so intensely dark and uncomfortable that looking at the events through the veil of comedy may be the only way that the audience can make sense of the gruesome material that the film presents. Unsettling the audience to the point of laughing uncomfortably does not qualify The Voices as a dark comedy.
Reynolds is primarily known as a comedic talent and his reputation definitely contributes to people viewing this film with a comedic slant. Although Reynolds spends the majority of the movie wearing his trademark “$#!t-eating grin”, his portrayal of the affable Jerry is more akin to the Machiavellian Hannibal Lecter than the genial Van Wilder. When a balding co-worker asks a cheerful Jerry to tone down his singing, Jerry immediately shoots back an innocent enough sounding quip telling the man, “I like your hair. In the back.” Superficially this seems like the kind of joke that will play for laughs in the film’s trailer, selling it as a “black-comedy”, when this remark is actually an example of Jerry’s cold blooded psychopathic manipulation. In this instance, a calculating Jerry lashes out at a perceived enemy while maintaining his happy go lucky persona. Jerry is able to so expertly deride his co-worker with passive aggressive aplomb and innocently stated snark that the co-worker ends the scene befuddled by whether or not he was even insulted.
As the centerpiece of this film, Reynolds shines in such a way that I’m unsure what’s preventing him from breaking through into the next stratosphere of leading man, movie star status. I would have a hard time coming up with even a handful of actors that could elicit the audience’s sympathy in this role while engaging in such macabre acts without turning The Voices into a 100-minute episode of Dexter. Anna Kendrick also stands out with a performance that would be worthy of the lead protagonist in any other film. Despite both characters being on a destructive collision course with each other, Satrapi somehow found a way to make them each uniquely endearing in a manner that did not lead to the audience having to choose a side.
When seen through Jerry’s unmedicated eyes, The Voices has a quirky visual charm that is equal measures, Twin Peaks, Fargo, 90’s era Tim Burton and Pee Wee’s Playhouse. The production designs and costumes do an exceptional job of transitioning the viewer into Jerry’s slanted and lucid interpretations of reality. The town of Milton is almost a character in itself. The anachronous town with its idiosyncratic landmarks such as Chinese buffets featuring Elvis impersonators successfully captures the broken down feel of a well past its prime, middle of nowhere town. Even though Milton is fun to look at for a moment, after a while it makes the viewer uncomfortable, like staring at a past her prime beauty queen who is unaware of how unflattering her defiant attempts to hold on to her looks actually comes across.
The Voices is an entertaining, albeit flawed film, mainly due to its uneven tone. The manner in which the film defies genre boundaries helps and often hinders the viewing experience. By not adhering to genre conventions and offering a protagonist who by definition is a villain, Satrapi straps the audience in for a roller coaster ride of a film that feels like it can fly off the rails any moment. With its bright and colorful aesthetic, The Voices is deceptively light on comedy and will surely turn off viewers not expecting to engage in a film this gruesome. Not even the immense glare cast from Ryan Reynolds’ 1000 watt smile will be enough to distract the audience from the near Tarantino levels of gore that will have the squeamish running for the exists. With its unique concept and engaging cast, The Voices is an entertaining film; just make sure that you are aware of what you are committing to once the opening credits roll.
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