It wasn’t until the end credits of The Voices did I notice that the director was none other than Marjane Satrapi, who most of you might recognize as the Oscar nominated director of Persepolis. I haven’t yet her other two features Chicken with Plums and The Gang of the Jotas. The screenplay is an original work written by Michael Perry, who has spent most of career writing and producing for several shows (like Stephen King’s Dead Zone, American Gothic and even a few episode of Law & Order: SVU, among others), as well as being one of three screenwriters for Paranormal Activity 2. Talk about an odd writer, director and star combination.
Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a bit of an oddball. He’s awkward at times, but he means well and he can be quite charming, though his co-workers at the bathtub factory aren’t too fond of him. It isn’t until we see his home life do we finally get a different side of him. He has a habit of talking to his cat, Mr. Whiskers and his dog, Bosco. Which isn’t too bad, until they talk back and make him do some not-so-good things.
I gotta say I feel really bad for Ryan Reynolds. I’ve always liked the guy, he has talent, he’s very charismatic, but he always seems to find himself in films where he doesn’t fit and a lot of them have bombed horribly. He’s done some good work before, but they have often been smaller projects. I think he’s an underappreciated talent. The great news is that even if the film was not that good (which it is by the way, it’s really good) it’s worth watching simply for Ryan Reynolds’ performance. You kinda get every possible mode for him as an actor; it almost makes the film like the best demo reel ever, and I really mean that in a good way. You get a sly comedic Ryan Reynolds; you have the witty rom-com Ryan Reynolds, the crazy psycho Ryan Reynolds, the vulnerable, sympathetic Ryan Reynolds, and the dramatic and somber Ryan Reynolds. So, I guess I can say that if you are not a fan of Ryan Reynolds, then maybe you should stay away. Joking aside, his performance really is impressive. He even does the voices of his dog and cat, which took me longer to realize than I’d care to admit. There’s a lot that his character needs to get across, both for the film and for the sake of the audience, and he honestly hits it out of the park. It makes it even better that the film around him lives up to his performance.
I love dark comedies, but there are a ton of terrible ones out there. If comedy is something that’s hard to do, then dark comedy is the hardest possible genre to execute. It is so easy to screw up on many fronts. I can’t tell you how many dark comedies I’ve seen where it seems like the filmmakers thought it only takes murder and being “wacky” about it to make it work, and I’ll be honest, I was worried about this when I saw the trailer for The Voices. The trailer makes the film look a lot sillier than it actually is, and that’s not to say that the film isn’t silly, it definitely is at times. I’d recommend avoiding the trailer. For me, what makes a dark comedy work is that the filmmakers really believe in their characters. It allows the humor to come naturally out of the characters’ reactions to their situations and not force it through trite hijinks. A good dark comedy should make me laugh like any comedy, but also keep me invested as I would be in a good drama or horror. It’s the ultimate balancing act, and Michael Perry and Marjane Satrapi are able to find and really explore the heart and soul of the film. I like how the film played around with its tone, and I like it when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to weave through different tones as long as it fits what the thematic and narrative beats are trying to express. Filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho, Tim Burton, David Fincher, Martin Scorsese and James Gunn understand this well, and Marjane Satrapi shows that she can play ball as well. She also understands that what often separate general comedy from dark comedy are the consequences. The way each scene builds on one another and progresses in a way that keeps things unpredictable, with each action having a consequence that the characters are forced to deal with.
While it’s definitely Ryan Reynolds’ show, it does have a strong supporting cast, the standouts being Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver. Jacki Weaver plays Dr. Warren, Jerry’s psychiatrist. Their interactions allow us to take a step back from Jerry’s head to really look at him objectively, and it’s moments like that which adds a lot to the film as a character study. Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick play Jerry’s co-workers, and the less said about their characters, the better. The people involved in training the animals in the movie deserve major credit. It may sound odd, but the “acting” from the animals in this was very well done. There have been many movies with animals, including ones that talk, where the animals don’t quite carry themselves in a way in sync with what they are supposed to do in context of a scene. There was never a moment in The Voices where it seems like the animals’ minds were off somewhere else; they practically felt like they stayed in character, so to speak.
The Voices is one of the better dark comedies I’ve seen in a while. It’s a thoughtfully written, wonderfully directed film that is anchored by a knockout lead performance from Ryan Reynolds. It manages to create moments of genuine pathos, grim psychological terror and pure tragedy, while also being pretty consistently funny throughout. I wouldn’t say it breaks any new ground that films with similar subject matter haven’t already done before, but there is a genuine voice to the film that is oddly sweet and endearing as much as it is dark and disturbed. Plus, it has one hell of a closer that goes into the ending credits. I don’t want to spoil it, but man…it’s something else. Anyone who enjoys dark comedies will definitely get a kick out of it, but if you’re squeamish or just really hate Ryan Reynolds for some reason then you’re business should probably go elsewhere.