‘The Voices’ is an absolutely crazy movie. Director Marjane Satrapi (‘Persepolis‘) and everyone else involved held no cards in their hand. Everyone went all-out with every single nutty idea they had and delivered a unique and unpredictable movie. It’s a wild ride to be sure, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as saying that it’s a good movie. The film whiffs as often as it connects while swinging for the fences, but at the very least it’s never boring.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Jerry Hickfang, a quietly awkward man who seems a bit off in a charming way. He works a dead end job at a factory where most of the women are befuddled by his good looks. You see, Jerry is a full-on nut. He typically chit-chats with his pets when no one is around, and they all talk back in adorable voices. Combined with a lot of vibrant colors and a goofy tone, the film plays like a ‘Looney Tunes’ cartoon but with real people. Then Jerry finally works up the courage to ask out the beautiful British woman (Gemma Arterton) in the factory’s office, and it seems like he might pull himself together. That is, of course, until he murders her. By accident, sort of. Then he chops her up and keeps a variety of her body parts in Tupperware containers in his fridge. It’s still pretty cute, though. He even takes her head out from time to time and has long meaningful conversations with it. Then Jerry has a few similar incidents, and suddenly it doesn’t seem so funny. Especially when the one girl in the factory office who actually likes him (Anna Kendrick) starts to push her affections and he accepts.
The tone of ‘The Voices’ is immensely uneasy, which is both the film’s greatest strength and greatest weakness. On the one hand, the subjective viewpoint from Jerry’s cracked mind comes off like the adorable fantasy life of a little boy who never grew up (even including musical numbers… really). On the other hand, the character is a serial killer, and as much as Satrapi uses that as a means for dark comedy, she also doesn’t want to deny the reality. Jerry is a goofball charmer for the most part, but whenever Satrapi pulls out of his perspective and shows us his rotting apartment filled with blood stains and body parts, that charm tends to vanish. Quite often, these radical tonal shifts make for ripping entertainment. ‘The Voices’ can be wildly unpredictable and a ton of fun. However, the movie also doesn’t seem to know what it is most of the time. The radical shifts never congeal into something consistent. By the end, there’s no denying that the movie is a bit of a mess.
Thankfully, it’s at least a fun and interesting mess despite all the problems. The performances are consistently excellent, with Arterton, Kendrick and especially Reynolds bouncing between goofy fantasy and horrific reality as smoothly as possible. Satrapi’s visual style is stimulating as well. Her use of colors and unexpected leaps in and out of fantasies are striking and entertaining. The trouble is that the script never quite lives up to the considerable talents that brought it to life. Keeping a genre movie ambiguous can lead to evocative mystery or pure frustration. Unfortunately, there’s more of the latter than the former here.
With another draft or two of the script to iron out exactly what ‘The Voices’ was supposed to be about, this could have been an oddball cult film. As it stands, it’s just an oddball film that doesn’t quite work and likely won’t earn a cult anytime soon. On the plus side, it’s hard to imagine a more unexpected movie to come out of Marjane Satrapi. If the director continues down this path, she could deliver a rather special genre movie down the road with a little more experience and focus. ‘The Voices’ isn’t quite what she aimed for, but it’s close and she might get there next time.