‘The Voices’ Review
There's nothing funny about schizophrenia. 'The Voices' understands this, and shows the horror of the disease. And then has you cracking up anyway. It's this diabolical blend of shock and candy-colored kitsch without mockery that makes this first English-language film from Marjane Satrapi ('Persepolis,' 'Chicken with Plums') so unique and, to be honest, something that will turn most people off.
Ryan Reynolds lives above a bowling alley, works as a packer and shipper at a toilet and tub factory and has talking pets. The old dog is an agreeable Wilford Brimley sort, the orange tabby cat sounds like a devilish Alan Cumming. At first it's cute - hey, what a fun fantasy! - soon we realize that Reynolds' character has, against the orders of his shrink (Jacki Weaver), stopped taking his meds.
Once selected to the steering committee of a company party (conga line in the hallway? Let's go for it!) he falls in love with "office hottie," British ex-pat Gemma Arterton. Satrapi, whose career began as a cartoonist, dresses her in near Jessica Rabbit clothing, and from Reynolds' POV there are butterflies that spring forth from her very essence. But, Arterton isn't just disinterested in Reynolds, she's rude about it - until she finds herself thumbing a lift in his truck and, well, that's where destiny plays its hand.
I'm hesitant to reveal too much, but 'The Voices' swiftly ends up in Coen Brothers territory of being simultaneously gross and hilarious. Reynolds continues his relationship with Arterton, but only in a way you read about in macabre True Crime exploitation novels. Another office worker, played by Anna Kendrick, has a bit of a crush on Reynolds, and when she interjects herself into his life the film becomes heartbreaking and then truly terrifying.
Above it all, though, there are a lot of laughs. This movie has some of the best dog and cat cutaway reaction shots in history. One cannot extol the animal casting in 'The Voices' enough. The humans do pretty well, too, and the beleaguered Reynolds whose career has suffered a string of flops does nicely here. It's a very mannered performance and he's forced to "go big," but by and large he nails it, especially in the scenes where the anti-psychotics kick in and we have the 'They Live' moment of seeing the real world.
Nothing in Satrapi's two previous films make for an obvious lead-in to 'The Voices.' Many in the audience at the Sundance premiere were audibly grossed-out. The woman to my right spent a great deal of time with her hand over her eyes. The version you ultimately see may feature some cuts, but there's no change the movie can make that will smoothen the daring mash-up of horror, drama and comedy.
Mixing genres like this is very difficult to do, and some won't be able to buy-in to the slightly skewed-world. (Cans of tuna fish don't look like that.) This forced falseness adds an additional layer of truth - reminding us of the inescapable nature of mental illness. Even with the talking cat, this movie is a lot more realistic than 'Silver Linings Playbook.'
'The Voices' premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.