The Voices (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Voices (2015)

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Jerry is trying to live a normal life.  All he needs to do is take his medication, get to work, and relax at night.  But when he starts flirting with one of his coworkers he starts to get advice from an unlikely source - his pets.  His cat wants him to give into his darker impulses while his dog still sees the good in his master.  As things go from pleasant to murderous Jerry's behavior grows more suspicious and his pet's advice louder.  Marjane Satrapi directs The Voices, written by Michael R. Perry, and stars Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, and Anna Kendrick.

Gotta listen to someoneRyan Reynolds is a charming man. This may seem like emphasizing a point so obvious it needs not be said, but his charm does not necessarily make him a good actor. Yes, there have been movies which tried to put his charm to their advantage, but they all end up bland (Van Wilder), or pleasant if unremarkable (Definitely, Maybe). He’s not like fellow handsome charmer Bradley Cooper, who has wowed me in recent years with increasingly risky performances. Reynolds is just a nice guy who can brighten up a screen for a bit before it fades into the credits.

The secret to Reynolds’ best performances in fare like Buried and The Nines is he’s trapped in a situation where his pleasant demeanor will not help him. He plays such a character in The Voices and is an absolute hoot but tragic at the same time. A lot of this has to do with how director Marjane Satrapi turns the screenplay from Michael R. Perry into a sort of middle class woman’s nightmare. Jerry (Reynolds) may seem sweet and helpful on the exterior but mask for deep problems no amount of good cheer will solve.

Satrapi sets up an uneasy tone before we even meet the over-eager Jerry. Machines circle around a factor bright pink carting around bright pink employees and bland packages. They move with an eerie symmetry and the deep focus keeps the dance of forklifts in time with the cheery soundtrack. The images rely on our association with factories as there are no factories this sterile and cheerful, especially with choreography that precise. We know the industrial world is not an easy one even with its occasional pleasures, so there must be something wrong.

Reynolds pushes himself into uncomfortable territory that works well under Satrapi's direction.

Reynolds pushes himself into uncomfortable territory that works well under Satrapi's direction.

The broad visual dance of the opening turns out to be a fine metaphor for the way Jerry lives his life. Something happened long ago which caused him to have a mental breakdown and now he lives a cheery life for others while fighting dark temptations inside. Now this sounds like the makings of any number of dark dramas, but Satrapi sets the focus less on Jerry and more the way the women in his life react to him.

Jerry doesn’t have a good idea of who he is anymore, so the image we get of Jerry is created from bits of his mother (Valerie Koch), his therapist (Jacki Weaver), and coworkers Lisa (Anna Kendrick) and Fiona (Gemma Arterton). It’s not immediately apparent as the story focus is on Jerry, but pay attention to the way his apartment changes depending on who he’s thinking about. It’s clean and tidy when he’s thinking about Fiona, who he has a crush on, or, later in the film, Lisa. But we see the evidence of his crimes and the filth collecting in his increasing collection of plastic containers when he’s thinking about his mom or therapist.

All of The Voices shifts perception like this, so in the office he sees energy and happiness during the party he helps plan with Fiona, while a bit of light brings cheer to a stockroom rendezvous with Lisa. These shifts in perception are subtle, making the colors sharper in one moment while dulled the next, but display how the subject is what these women see Jerry as and not how Jerry sees them. In that sense, each of the women sees him as a way to deal with the dulling effect of suburban life. The story has been done plenty of times and has a rich history in melodrama, but the bleak humor of The Voices sets it apart.

Satrapi's cartoonist eye gives The Voices a distinctive emotional clarity without going overboard.

Satrapi's cartoonist eye gives The Voices a distinctive emotional clarity without going overboard.

Reynolds garners most of the big laughs because of his unflappable optimism in spite of evidence which says he should be pessimistic. He generates one huge laugh when he projects just the right amount of concern in his voice when he’s running after Fiona with a knife because he doesn’t want her to get lost. All his interactions with his talking pets are golden as well, with the dog’s crazed willingness to jump to his defense and the cat’s vengeful spirit being the high points there.

The rest of the cast doesn’t get many jokes, but their roles are what make the drama affecting. Arterton brings a palpable disappointment to every aspect of her life with the way she seems to be pushing out her sentences as though there’s nothing better to do. Kendrick continues to showcase her amazing talent with her subtle, and sad, flirtation with Jerry and relief when she thinks she finally has someone to share the monotony with. Then Weaver, always stellar, does some great exasperated deadpan as she tries to encourage Jerry to return to the routine with his medication. Each of the women bring a different dramatic edge to The Voices, and all share in the bleak humor.

I’d be interested to see what other directors would have done with the screenplay for The Voices. Satrapi made it a good film by turning Reynolds’ charm into a weapon and letting the viewpoints of the women guide the visual narrative. The same story could have been made into a bargain basement horror film but Satrapi recognized the strengths of the screenplay. Others may be put off by The Voices, but it’s blend of sadness and wicked humor makes it worth a gander.

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Tail - The VoicesThe Voices (2015)

Directed by Marjane Satrapi.
Screenplay written by Michael R. Perry.
Starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver.

Posted by Andrew

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