If you were to put together a lineup of films including ‘The Voices’ and attempted to guess which one came from ‘Persepolis‘ director Marjane Satrapi, it’s safe to say that no one would get the right answer. Somehow, Satrapi managed to pull together a pretty impressive budget to mount a big, bright and weird horror comedy. You have to admire her film based on insanity and audacity alone. Whether or not it works is another question entirely.
Ryan Reynolds stars as an impossibly perky factory worker who lives alone with a cat and dog that speak to him. So far, so quirky. After a while of watching the quirky Reynolds go about his quirky life, we learn that he’s seeing a psychiatrist regularly and refuses to take his meds. Okay, that explains the voices. Then he starts obsessing over the pretty British girl in the office (Gemma Arterton). When a failed date goes wrong, he ends up killing her, but keeps her head around to chat with. It’s all very big and bright and goofy, until Reynolds decides to try his meds or someone else peaks into his world and the audience gets an outside perspective for a second. Then the movie is decidedly not funny. It’s an amusing twist on both the horror/comedy and the glut of quirky dramedies made by the army of Wes Anderson knock-off artists over the past decade. For once, that deadpan, cheerful and silly cinematic world feels credible because it’s the product of a fractured mind.
That’s a pretty damn clever idea for a movie and also a highly strange and uncommercial one. Yet somehow Satrapi got an impressive budget to mount the production and is able to use all sorts of old and new show-off filmmaking tricks to present Reynolds’ mad world. Judged purely on style and technique, the film is impossible to deny. The cast is also quire strong, with Reynolds delivering some of his best work and folks like Arterton and Anna Kendrick stepping up to match him. The problem is that the movie is not nearly as funny or profound as it thinks it is and wants to be.
It’s clever sure, even creative. But the humor that is so clearly mapped out and set up with pauses for laughter just never quite kicks in. Maybe it gets better with multiple viewings as you adjust to the film’s style, but on first pass, ‘The Voices’ plays like a big beautiful train set that’s been carefully set up and designed exquisitely, yet just doesn’t work. The laughs are never consistent and the stabs a drama feel predictable.
That said, ‘The Voices’ is such a big wild, crazy, balls-out movie with a fantastic design sense and wonderful performances that it’s certainly worth a look. It’s clear why everyone signed on and gave their best work, because there are some wonderful ideas in play. Too bad that a more skilled comedic mind didn’t get a crack at punching up the screenplay before production. This movie really could have been something special, rather than just an oddball curiosity.