Dir: Marjane Satrapi
By: Will Donelson
(Sundance Film Festival London 2014)
The Voices is the latest from director Marjane Satrapi, who made a name for herself with the critically-acclaimed Persepolis in 2007. The film focuses on Jerry (Ryan Reynolds), a disturbed factory worker in a tiny little nowhere town, who hears voices which he projects onto his dog and cat. The dumb and lovable Bosco acts as an emotional anchor, whereas the cruel Mr. Whiskers seems to inhabit the role of both Jerry’s Id and Superego, encouraging him to indulge in his base instincts whilst also belittling him for feeling them. Eventually, the voices start leading Jerry towards murder, and he unwillingly becomes a serial killer.
The biggest problem The Voices faces is that it never decides what kind of movie it wants to be. Well, that’s not entirely true – it wants to be a genre-bending comedy/horror/thriller/drama/romance – the problem is that it has no idea how to be all these things at once. Instead, it leaves the viewer in a constant state of whiplash as it transitions from one mood to another, never giving any the proper time to settle. If I may just get this out the way and shoot this fish-in-a-barrel; the most schizophrenic thing about “The Voices” is it’s tone.
Though really, the film itself never goes into much detail on where exactly “the voices” come from, besides a vague “mental illness” label. On the one hand, avoiding a specific diagnoses allows the film to be more creative with what Jerry goes through – on the other, it gives the character a case of “Hollywood schizophrenia”, wherein his illness manifests in whatever unspecific, convenient way the story needs. Jerry switches between an awareness and guilt for his actions to enjoying them to being unaware of what he is really doing. There’s no real rhyme or reason to these changes – he sides with different voices seemingly at random, and again has the “hollywood schizophrenic” power of being able to make the voices stop simply by dramatically shouting “shut up!” The result is that, when Jerry finally has his big cathartic moment at the end of the film, it feels completely and utterly unearned.
The most interesting moment in the film comes in the form of a tragically short-lived moment, wherein Jerry questions his voices whether or not he is still a good person simply for wanting to be a good person. The conversation is quickly killed, which is unfortunate, as it had the potential to go a number of interesting places, with the possibility of hearing each voices unique take on the question.
Ryan Reynolds for the first time in years actually feels appropriately cast. He plays Jerry with the kind of wide-eyed naivety necessary for the character to work. The film around him doesn’t seem to work – but Jerry is always a constant. I was also shocked to learn that Reynolds actually voices all the animals in the film – he has a versatile vocal talent that before now I never would have expected, seamlessly transitioning from the gravelly, sinister Mr. Whiskers to the goofy, lazy Bosco.
Friendly, gullible, excitable and malleable, Reynolds totally inhabits Jerry, and barring a few poorly-written hiccups he can’t be blamed for, nails the character. It seems like Reynolds may have actually been a little too likeable for the character – as at times, the movie fails to commit to making him a serial killer, instead having characters Jerry WANTED to kill die accidentally. It’s as if the film is waving it’s arms and yelling “look! It was an accident, Jerry’s still nice!” and completely forgetting Jerry’s nature
“The Voices” may not fail spectacularly on every level, but it does still fail on every level. It’s not an honest look at mental illness, it’s never once scary, it’s seldom ever funny and it only ever flirts with interesting ideas. Attempting a great many things is only ever admirable; and it isn’t undoable, either, but what “The Voices” lacks (ironically) is a voice.