Jerry seems like a normal guy. He works at a bathtub factory, lives in an apartment above an abandoned bowling alley with a cat and a dog, and is trying to woo a cute co-worker. There’s something off about him, though. Perhaps it’s just the world he inhabits, which seems a tad more bright, colorful, and chipper than possible (the movie opens with an anthem for the tiny hamlet of Milton). Or maybe it’s how he talks to his dog and cat… and they talk back.
The Voices starts out weird and only gets weirder. This film is told from the perspective a deeply disturbed man, and the viewer gradually realizes that they can’t trust what appears on screen. Jerry’s dog, Bosco, speaks in a kindly, gruff voice, sounding like the dog from Davey and Goliath. The cat, Mr. Whiskers, is considerably more caustic, badgering Jerry to perform murderous acts in a vicious Scottish brogue. Jerry’s attempts to reach out to the people around him keep ending in (often bloody) disaster, and the arguments, as well as the number of voices he’s hearing, begin to multiply.
Also, Jerry is played by Ryan Reynolds. He’s pretty much perfect from the start, playing Jerry as an ultra-cheery everydude, a troubled but enduring soul, a helpless romantic, a man wrapped in grief, a cracking brain, and more, presenting every facet with thorough conviction. It’s a fearless and raw performance that’s far and away his best yet. As the movie keeps getting darker and crazier, it’s all centered on Reynolds’s assured portrayal. Jerry is just the sweetest guy, even as he begins decapitating people and carrying on conversations with their heads.
Anna Kendrick and Gemma Arterton also play the objects of Jerry’s affections, and Jacki Weaver his court-appointed psychiatrist, but the real co-star is director Marjane Satrapi. For some reason, I haven’t thought of her as a capital-G Great director up until now, even though her two previous films, Persepolis and Chicken With Plums, were among my favorites of their respective years. It took The Voices, such a radical departure from the Iran-focused subject matter of her past work, to finally shake me awake.
Satrapi juggles tones like a circus performer juggles flaming chainsaws that shoot acid. The Voices swings between goofy humor, horrific violence, genuine sweetness, outright despair, and more at the drop of a knife. It often blends the mood, sometimes going for pitch-black comedy while being brutal, sometimes sad and sweet while also incredibly dark. It all wraps up in a finale that’s simultaneously wince-inducing and strangely uplifting.
The Voices is a movie that very, very few people will be able to roll with. I witnessed at least a dozen walk-outs during my screening. Reynolds is playing a modern Norman Bates, one who views the world through a sugary Disney lens even as he dismantles a body and puts its various parts into scores of tupperware containers. It’s genuinely disturbing and upsetting, featuring a character we like (or at least pity) murdering other characters we like, and yet it’s also very funny, assuming you have a sense of humor as mischievous as that of Satrapi and screenwriter Michael Perry. This is a gripping look at mental illness as filtered through some extreme stylization. Seek it out, if you think you can dig it.