Reynolds Brings His A-Game and Charm To “The Voices”

By Scott Kurland

Film: The Voices
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and  Jacki Weaver
Rated R
Director: Marjane Satrapi

It seems like the last time we had a good dark comedy/horror flick was 1996’s “The Frighteners”. I know many films have come out since 96’, and a lot of people will say “Shaun of the Dead”. However, “Shaun Of The Dead” was more of a comedy. Yes, it had some scenes that were gruesome, but all together it was purely comical. “The Frighteners” had heads being shot off, people being murdered, and just the right amount of humor. If you truly think about it, there haven’t been a lot of dark comedies or horror comedies since the 80s. The 1980s is where we got “Evil Dead II”, “Gremlins”, “Fright Night”, and “Little Shop of Horrors”. These days it seems like this genre is a dying art form, until now. Horror comedy is making a comeback in a big way, and this week’s film “The Voices” is proof of that.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Jerry, a simple and good hearted shipping & receiving worker at a factory in the small town of Milton (we are to believe that Milton is part of every town USA). Jerry, also happens to be a bipolar-schizophrenic who hears voices in the form of  talking animals (all voiced by Reynolds). There’s his evil satanic cat Mr. Whiskers (Reynolds with a Scottish brogue) and his God-like dog Bosco (Reynolds doing a pretty good Matthew McConaughey/Forrest Gump accent). Jerry is normally able to keep the voices in check until Mr. Whiskers starts telling Jerry to give in to his animal instincts and kill. Soon, Jerry is off his meds and killing left and right. Are the lovely ladies (Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton) of his office safe? Will Jerry get caught? Or will “The Voices” win?

Ryan Reynolds is such an underrated actor. Yes, he has had a string of bad movies in the past. But that isn’t his fault, no one ever goes out and says “Hey, let me make terrible movies”.....ok not counting Chevy Chase, no normal person says that. I’ve always been a big fan of Reynolds ever since “Van Wilder” and “Two Guys, A Girl, and A Pizza Place.” There’s something winning about his acting because he’s charming, funny, and knows how to infuse true drama into his characters. As Jerry, Reynolds has the difficult job of taking a serial killer and making him empathetic, which he does. Jerry strives to be a good person, and Reynolds does such a compelling job conveying that. Not many actors have a natural charisma, but there’s something about his performances that are phenomenal.

What truly sold “The Voices” for me was not only Reynolds’ acting on screen, but his voice acting as well. Director Marjane Satrapi was originally going to cast voice actors like Jim Cummings or Dee Bradley Baker to play  Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. However, Reynolds convinced her that it should be him from the beginning. That was truly the right call. The fact that all these voices are Jerry allows us to stay in Jerry’s world the entire film. We see Jerry’s delusions, his actual life and, honestly, we prefer seeing the fantasy over the harsh reality. Reynolds’ is the heart of this film, but he has three strong female leads to center his performance.
Weaver, Arteron, and Kendrick all stand out here. Each performance is a different view of how women see Jerry. Arteron’s Fiona uses Jerry and exploits him because she knows he has a crush on her. Not truly knowing who he is though backfires on her, and proves that women like Fiona don’t always get their way. Kendrick brings that supportive girlfriend character to the film, and when she enters the film it actually brightens up the picture. There’s just something wonderful about Anna Kendrick in everything. Not only is she that girl next door, but she’s always a “real” person. She plays these believable people in everything she does. In “Up In The Air” we could buy that she’d move to the mid-west for her boyfriend. In “Pitch Perfect” we bought the musical loner. Now, in “The Voices,” we buy the sweet girl next door who falls for the tortured simpleton. 
The final piece to the puzzle is Weaver. Jacki Weaver’s performance as Jerry’s therapist might be the most important character in this film. She needs to be that mother he never had, and she truly is. She’s a great therapist and she gives one of the best speeches about insecurity ever to appear on screen. Weaver tells Jerry that even she, a well adjusted therapist, has voices, doubts, and is full of pain just like him. I truly believe that if you want your film to get better you should add Jacki Weaver. She was one of the best characters in “Silver Linings Playbook” and she’s one of the best here. I hope she keeps getting these motherly roles, because she’s so good in them. Weaver is “The Voices” MVP and although her performance is brief, it has a lasting impression on us.

Satrapi is a gifted director. If you haven’t seen “Persepolis” it’s a must see, and she brings that same creativity to this film. What I loved the most about this film was her direction and the production design by Udo Kramer. Kramer has a difficult job. We need to see two different sets for Jerry’s apartment. First there’s Jerry’s view of everything; it’s clean, perfect and filled with colorful furniture. Next there’s the reality; filled with  decay, blood, and hoarding (not only is Jerry crazy, he’s a hoarder too). Kramer’s sets are so full of life, detail, and become a character all unto itself. 

Yet, no movie is complete without a talented director. Marjane Satrapi is such a perfect fit for this film. I don’t know why, but the two darkest films I’ve seen about serial killers with personality disorders have been directed by women. First there was Mary Harron’s “American Psycho”, which is one of the best films to come out of the early 2000s. Now almost fifteen years later, Marjane Satrapi has crafted an equally bizarre and endearing film that reminds me of “American Psycho.”

Satrapi gets so many things right with this film. Reynolds as Jerry is inspired casting. He’s not too innocent but not too intimidating. She perfectly paces the film and adds the right amount of tension to go with the humor. However, the thing I like the most about this film by Satrapi’s is that we never see the violence. When Jerry kills someone, the camera is focused on his face or the victim. We don’t get the gore factor of say “Halloween” or “Scream.” Satrapi lets our brain do all the work and we see only the aftermath. The only other director to do this technique was Quentin Tarantino with “Pulp Fiction”and, sadly, this type of storytelling is a dying art form.

“The Voices” is a weird and darkly beautiful film about mental illness and the internal struggle of good (Bosco the Dog) vs. evil (Mr. Whiskers the cat). Satrapi has crafted a wonderful film. It is a hybrid of Tim Burton wackiness and David Lynch insanity. Ryan Reynolds not only carries the film, but he proves what a true talent he is. This performance only increases my excitement for next year’s “Deadpool” film. “The Voices” is a must see, and it’s now playing in theaters in Boston. Or, starting this week,you can rent it OnDemand and  on Itunes. 

scott kurlandComment