Review: The Voices (Sundance 2014)
PLOT:Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) seems like a regular guy but he's hiding a secret. Every night when he goes home to his apartment, his dog and cat speak to him- literally- with his dog trying to keep the peace while his cat tells him to go out and kill.
REVIEW:Just what we always needed: a serial killer comedy, complete with talking animals. Well, one certainly can't fault Marjane Satrapi for being unambitious. She's truly a visionary director, proven by PERSEPOLIS and her follow-up, CHICKEN WITH PLUMS. THE VOICES is her biggest film yet, featuring a full-on movie star (Reynolds) in the lead role, along with the considerable talents of Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver as the women in his life.
The problem with THE VOICES is that black comedy is such a delicate thing to pull off, and Satrapi doesn't quite get the balance right. Watching Jerry kill women and then dispose of their bodies in extremely gruesome fashion- even keeping their heads for his fridge- is pretty tough to laugh at, even if Reynolds camps it up by doing the voices of the talking pets himself (with the cat sounding a lot like Alan Cumming). It's too brutal to be funny, and one long murderous set-piece is played completely straight- which is fine- but once it goes back to wacky comedy, it's hard to start laughing again. The audience at Sundance was noticeably quiet after this sequence, and there were a few walkouts, but not as many as one might think given how graphic it gets.
It's hard to blame the actor or Satrapi. Everyone tries to do good work. Reynolds has been on a bit of a bender of bad films, with RIPD being as bad as any I've seen. Reynolds isn't his usual smart-aleck self, playing Jerry as quiet and awkward, although seemingly in the presence of a good heart, at least when not being encouraged to kill by his bad old kitty. Reynolds seems to be basing his performance directly on Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates from PSYCHO, complete with stammering and a seemingly affable nature. He does relatively well in the part, and his innate likability makes it at least somewhat believable that he could go without suspicion for so long. His voices for the talking pets are great, and I honestly had no idea they were Reynolds until late in the film.
Gemma Arterton plays Jerry's sexpot co-worker, and the object of his affections. Arterton is solid in a goofier role than usual, although she's still playing a pretty two-dimensional part. Anna Kendrick has a meatier role as another of Jerry's co-workers, who loves him from afar and is the only one who might be able to humanize him. Jacki Weaver is also very sympathetic as Jerry caring, but deeply ineffective court-appointed-counsellor, and while she's a minor presence for the first part of the film, but becomes important in the last act.
For her part, Satrapi gives THE VOICES a visually striking world, depicting Jerry's non medicated world in pretty colors- with pink being especially significant. Off his meds, THE VOICES is set in a dark, ugly world, and on a purely visual level Satrapi is as stylish as ever. It's juggling the comedy and the violence that proves to be a hurdle she's not able to overcome, although unless you're the Coen Bros., this type of thing is tough to do. Her most inspired sequence happens to be the most controversial, being a full-on musical number with Reynolds, Arterton, Kendrick, and a very special cameo by none other than Jesus Christ himself.
I can't call THE VOICES an all-out disaster, as it's so stylish and the acting is good. Satrapi is clearly trying hard to make a film that's exciting on a visceral level, but the tone just doesn't work. THE VOICES may well develop some kind of cult following- based on the zany tone- but it'll be a tough sell to everyone else.