[This is a re-post of my The Voices review from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. The film is available today on VOD and in select theaters.]
The Voices is an insane movie about insanity. That’s not me being hyperbolic; this movie is joyously, unabashedly out of its mind. Director Marjane Satrapi, who previously helmed the coming-of-age animated pic Persepolis, takes audiences inside the mind of a psychopath in The Voices to wonderful results. Ryan Reynolds fearlessly plays Jerry, a psychopath who converses with his dog, cat, and other disembodied parts in his droll apartment. Through Satrapi’s twisted vision, we’re given a skewed and darkly comic view of the world through Jerry’s eyes. It’s a wholly unique film that, while becoming a bit more conventional in its third act, is still gleefully violent, wickedly funny, and oddly charming.
Jerry Hickfang is a lovable factory worker who’s just a bit odd. When the movie opens, it plays like an offbeat comedy in which the naïve and uncertain Jerry takes a liking to a woman working in his factory’s accounting office, Fiona (Gemma Arterton). He subsequently goes about asking her to his favorite Chinese restaurant, Shi-Shan. Fiona blows Jerry off on the night of their date, but is compelled to ask for his help when her car won’t start and the rain starts pouring. Things eventually take a dark turn, and it’s safe to say that Jerry isn’t the adorable, bumbling oaf that many expected him to be. Really, it’s not unlike the story of Norman Bates, albeit with a humorous and colorful twist.
As the film unfolds, we see Jerry visiting his psychotherapist (Jacki Weaver) where he lies about taking his pills, and another woman at work, Lisa (Anna Kendrick), goes about trying to woo Jerry. In his apartment, he regularly converses with his cat and dog—though only when he’s while not taking his pills, naturally. The cat is a condescending asshole (the Devil), while the dog is a simple yet goodhearted companion (the Angel). These conversations are tremendously funny, and as the film’s humor gets darker and darker over the course of the film, Satrapi never completely loses her audience.
The visual cues in the film are remarkably executed. When on his pills, Jerry sees the world as colorful and bright, almost as a picturesque 1950s society. He wears bright colored jackets, smiles a lot, and eats the same delicious cereal every day. This is the style in which the movie opens, but when Satrapi gives us a glimpse of the reality of what Jerry is seeing, these visual themes are all the more impressive. Moreover, Satrapi plays with a number of horror tropes throughout the film, bringing an air of familiarity to some of the more tense scenes but always playing them with a slight twist that makes them feel fresh and odd.
Ryan Reynolds has gotten a lot of flack for never truly breaking out as the big A-list franchise star that Hollywood wants him to be. In The Voices, he proves that he’s most certainly a skilled actor, as he proves adept at taking on darker, more difficult characters; he plays Jerry with a mix of glee, loneliness, anger, and, well, insanity. It’s a truly go-for-broke performance, and it’s to Reynolds’ credit that Jerry remains sweet and sympathetic throughout the entirety of the film, despite the fact that Jerry is doing some very bad things. The supporting cast is incredibly solid as well, but this is really Jerry’s film and Reynolds carries it with ease.
The film falters a bit towards then end when it becomes a tad predictable and slightly more conventional, which is a shame given that the rest of the film is delightfully strange and funny. There are also a few iffy performances from some of the supporting characters that distract, but the leads—Reynolds, Kendrick, and Arterton—are solid. Things come back around at the very end, though, resulting in one of the weirdest closing scenes that I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this movie wears its crazy right on its sleeve.
Many people spend their whole lives trying to escape reality. The world is hard and brutal, and sometimes it’s just easier to put all that doom and gloom away and focus on the positives—even if that means making some of them up. Satrapi examines this idea to an extreme in The Voices, and the result is one of the best dark comedies in years, anchored by a truly terrific performance by Ryan Reynolds. More of this, please.