D: Marjane Satrapi / 103m
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, Jacki Weaver, Ella Smith, Paul Chahidi, Stanley Townsend, Adi Shankar, Sam Spruell
Jerry Hickfang (Reynolds) has a problem. Actually, he has quite a few problems, but the main one is that his cat, Mr Whiskers, and his dog, Bosco, talk to him. Mr Whiskers wants Jerry to behave in all sorts of horrible ways and takes a caustic view of him when he refuses to listen. Bosch is more supportive of Jerry and tells him that he’s a better person than the one Mr Whiskers wants him to be. Jerry does his best to ignore both of them, but therein lies another problem: the reason he can hear them is because he’s not taking his medication… and anti-psychotic medication at that.
Jerry works in the shipping department at a bathtub factory. He gets on well with his fellow workers and is regarded highly by his supervisor Dennis (Chahidi). He has a crush on one of the accounts staff, Fiona (Arterton) and musters up the nerve to ask her out, remaining blissfully unaware that Lisa (Kendrick) (who works with Fiona) has a crush on him as well. However, Fiona stands him up and goes out with Lisa and Allison (Smith), another accounts clerk. When she tries to go home her car won’t start. Jerry happens to pass by and offers Fiona a lift. They decide to go for a drink together but on the way a deer hits the car. The deer tells Jerry that it’s too injured to survive and that he should kill it. Jerry takes out a knife and cuts its throat. Fiona freaks out and runs from the car into the woods. Jerry chases after her and when he catches up with her he stabs her… accidentally at first and then repeatedly.
He leaves the body there but Mr Whiskers persuades him to go back the next day and retrieve it. He takes it home, cuts it up into little pieces and puts Fiona’s head in his fridge. She’s not happy about being alone in the fridge and tries to persuade Jerry to find someone she can have as company. Jerry resists though and to try and improve things, resumes taking his medication. He and Lisa start to see each other, but when she decides to surprise Jerry at his place she sees what he’s been doing, and it leads to Fiona getting her wish after all. When Allison goes missing as well (after finding out about Jerry’s past), two of his workmates, John (Shankar) and Dave (Spruell), grow suspicious of Jerry and visit his home. What they find there leads them to call the police…
First shown at the Sundance Festival back in January 2014, The Voices finally arrives in cinemas and on VoD but, despite several festival awards under its belt, with very little fanfare. Part of this may be to do with the movie’s content. If you watch the trailer it keeps things light and funny (you could even be forgiven for thinking it’s a serial killer rom-com with an emphasis on the com), but what the movie does in reality is try to offset moments of goofy humour with darker insights into the mind of a seriously disturbed individual. But in doing so, The Voices proves to be as schizophrenic as its main character.
With the tone of the movie veering between whimsical and malicious, and with detours that take in quirky, creepy and absurd, it doesn’t take long for the viewer to realise that the material is going to be uneven and, as a result, not entirely convincing. Yes, Jerry is mentally ill, psychotic even, and yes, the way in which his two states of mind – on drugs, off drugs – are cleverly dramatised by the state of his apartment – gleaming and clean when off his meds, gnarly and grim when he’s on them – but there’s still not enough glue to hold all the pieces together. Part of the problem is that the script (by Michael R. Perry) gives the impression that once all the ideas for the movie were gone through the decision was made to include them all, whether they worked or not.
Off the back of this, Satrapi has fashioned a movie that works well in spurts but drags in others while meandering in-between times. It makes for a frustrating watch and while Reynolds gives an atypical performance that works well with the material (though his doofus smile makes him look mentally challenged rather than mentally ill), the feeling that a firmer hand was needed persists throughout. Reynolds certainly understands the character, and he makes Jerry entirely sympathetic. All Jerry wants to be is happy; it’s just the way he goes about it that’s inappropriate. And he makes it clear when the script doesn’t that Jerry has a degree of self-awareness about his illness and what it makes him do, but a couple of token instances of resistance aside, he can’t quite pull off the ease with which Jerry goes about killing people.
As for Mr Whiskers and Bosco, it’s clear that they’re meant to be the source of much of the movie’s humour, but once you’ve heard Mr Whiskers’ Scottish-sounding, foul-mouthed attempts at coercion the first time, it soon becomes a played-out plot device; he needs to be less aggressive and more insinuating. The same is true of Bosco, his down-home Southern drawl humorous at first but proving more of a vocal stunt as the movie progresses (Reynolds provides both voices, adding to the conceit that Jerry is hearing their voices inside his own head and they’re not really talking to him). Otherwise, the humour relies on severed heads proving peevish about their situation, awkward comments that Jerry makes to his co-workers, and a few cartoon-style moments that we’ve all seen before.
The rest of the cast cope well enough with largely under-developed characters, with Arterton and Kendrick reduced to window dressing, though Weaver (as Jerry’s court-appointed psychiatrist) acts like she’s in a farce and not something trying to be a little darker. Maxime Alexandre’s cinematography and Udo Kramer’s production design combine to make Berlin look like the US, and the movie is full of garish little touches, such as the work clothes Jerry and his co-workers have to wear. And at the end there’s a musical number that concludes things with one final (unnecessary) flourish.
Rating: 6/10 – while not as clever or as funny as it thinks it is, The Voices does have a (still beating) heart that helps the viewer wade through some of the more uneven aspects; better as well thanks to Reynolds’ involvement, it’s a movie that will probably gain cult credibility in the future but its delay in hitting cinemas should act as a warning as to its real quality.