The follow up film from Marjane Satrapi, director of Persepolis is not what you would expect. In one fell swoop she shifts her gaze from biographical animation to screwball, satirical comedy. The Voices sees Ryan Reynolds play Jerry Hickfang, a toilet factory worker who is, unbeknownst to those around him, struggling with severe mental illness. Failure to adhere to his medical regime, whilst leaving him with a cartoon-like happy innocence about the world, contrastingly leads to murderous consequences. As his brain rewrites a chirpier and more congenial version of reality, he sinks further into his delirium while being influenced by the voices in his head, heard through the mouthpieces of his evil cat, Mr Whiskers and do-gooder dog, Bosco. Together, this disturbed alliance, helps him to cope with the lonely world that would otherwise confront him.
Reynolds delivers a curious and novel stroke with this role, giving a thoroughly entertaining turn as this deeply troubled character who hangs in a medically-dictated balance between living in a carefree dream world and being subject to fits of violent or agitated emotion. He is at once childlike, righteous and dangerous, and he slips in and out of these identities with ease – sometimes portraying conflicting personalities simultaneously without ever feeling too forced. Jerry struggles with whether or not he has crossed the line over to what it means to be truly evil which sets up ribald and farcical dialogue between him and his pets/voices, a warring mixture of docile self-depreciation and scathing animosity.
Initially, it is hard to get a grasp on the nature and tone of the film or where, in terms of genre, it is meant to fall. It attempts to be a lot of things at once – cheesy closing dance sequences and naive, offhand dialogue are pitted against extreme gory murder and moments of raw, honest psychological breakdown and deconstruction. As appropriately summed up by Satrapi, “I thought the script was so fucked up, I just had to do it”. This works in the sense that it can be seen as a reflection and a consequence of Jerry’s own fractured psyche, and so murder is frequently made absurd, but occasionally it is just shy of being pulled off as solidly as it could have been. Even with a great supporting cast including Jacki Weaver as his psychotherapist and Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton as two of the office girls from accounts, they do not always shake off the feeling as being props in Jerry’s fantasy world, with less substance than their emotionally erratic acquaintance and are only at their most absorbing and alive in the moments when it seems life is about to be taken from them.
However, in the presence of such a bizarre character as Jerry, it is inevitable that he firmly takes centre stage – we are living in his world, after all. Seeing as the film never sets itself up to take itself too seriously, the deliberate move to bleed horror into comedy is wickedly accomplished. The Voices has the makings of a cult movie – strange and unique, and kissed by the director’s signature daring artistry. In attempting to carve out her own kind of dark, dramatic comedy, Satrapi shows bold, brave moves.
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Writer: Michael R. Perry (screenplay)
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Gemma Arterton, Ryan Reynolds
Runtime: 107 min
Country: USA, Germany