I’ve honestly lost track of all the ways I learn about movies that I want to see.
With that said, I won’t bore you with how I came to be interested in The Voices, directed by Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis and Chicken with Plums fame) and starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. My thought process was probably started and ended with: Anna Kendrick is adorable.
Reynolds plays Jerry, a man who hears voices—and not the kind that tell him to build a baseball field. These voices are in his head, but he believes they’re coming from his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Besides that, though, everything is normal. He works in a bathtub factory and regularly checks in with his court-appointed psychotherapist (his mother died when he was twelve). When things take an accidentally deathly and sinister turn, Jerry has to rely on the advice of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Should he do the right thing, as Bosco suggests, or listen to Mr. Whiskers and give in to his killer urges?
It’s not a film for everyone. The film’s tone is all over the place and not always in a bad way. It flips between broad comedy to very dark comedy to something akin to a drama to a crime thriller—often in the span of a few scenes. It’s not surprising that a multi-genre film like this is having trouble finding its audience; such a varied tone can give a viewer whiplash. At one point we go from a savagely grisly flashback where we learn how Jerry’s mother died to a tender implied sex scene and its corresponding morning after. It was a jarring transition, to say the least.
It was at this point that I thought the film was going to end very differently. Jerry isn’t a bad guy; he’s just sick. He clearly needs help and even though I hate the idea that “finding love” can completely heal a person, I was hoping the love of Lisa (Kendrick) would have been enough to help him. It’s even one of the most brightly-lit scenes in the film and there’s even a vague hinting that she’s just as crazy as he is. Maybe their love would be enough to heal each other.
Sadly, the microscopic romantic (micromantic?) in me was let down, but only for a moment.
There is an interesting subtext of psychopharmacology and how patients with mental disorders are diagnosed and treated that runs throughout the film (I told you it was all over the place). When Jerry is off his meds, everything is brighter—his apartment above an abandoned bowling alley is clean, Bosco runs to greet him when he comes in the door, the forklifts at work perform a synchronized dance. But when he starts taking the pills again, we finally see reality. Pizza boxes and discarded microwave dinner trays stack up to the ceiling of his dimly-lit apartment, his pets sit morosely in a lump in the corner while their defecation is everywhere. I really liked the distinction Satrapi made between reality and the life inside Jerry’s mind. This might be her best work since Chicken with Plums.
Reynolds has never been a draw for me (anyone who breaks up with Scarlett Johansson deserves to be shunned), but I liked what he did here. Often fidgeting, he imbues Jerry with an easy-going awkward shyness that makes him instantly likable. Some of the film’s laughs come from just how awkward he is (he scarfs down a slice of pizza with a heart-shaped piece of pepperoni on it in one bite, he sings The O’Jays’ “Sing a Happy Song” a little too loudly for his coworker). I liked that Reynolds did the voices for all the animals in the movie; it makes sense seeing as how the voices originate in his mind.
There’s a very good chance that you will hate this movie. I’d say it’s like American Psycho meets 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag meets Undertaking Betty. Or as Brad Wheeler said in his review, “A meeting of Psycho, Dexter and Dr. Doolittle.” If you can make it through to the very end, though, you’re in for a truly head-scratching surprise. I thought I was watching a Bollywood musical for a second. It’s weird, it’s offbeat, it’s quirky and it might be one of my favorites of the year, so far.
If you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts? Do you talk to your pets? Let us know in the comments below!