Some things you just never expect. A case in point: at a friend’s birthday drinks recently, I fell into conversation with a self-described pom pom maker. Someone who makes their living making POM POMS! That could only be described as…unexpected. On a similar note – Ryan Reynolds has made a good film! Bet you weren’t expecting that…

Handsome and nice, with an almost puppyish enthusiasm, Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) seems like your regular, average, normal bloke. Having just started working at the local bathtub factory, he’s well-liked by his co-workers, is nursing a serious crush on vivacious, curvy, British accountant Fiona (Gemma Arterton) and is oblivious to the adoring glances of her colleague cute-as-a-button Lisa (Anna Kendrick). He lives quietly with his dog, Bosco, and his cat Mr. Whiskers. Jerry’s also seriously mentally ill.

Suffering from an acute personality disorder, he’s also totally off his meds, much to the consternation of his psychiatrist Dr Warren (Jacki Weaver), and taking dating and life advice from his pets; dog Bosco, a calming, soothing, avuncular supportive influence, and the Scottish-accented Mr. Whiskers a violent, potty-mouthed psychopath, who demolishes his self-esteem (“The only reason they don’t fire your ass is because you’re so hopelessly pathetic you amuse them.”) and encourages his baser instincts. They are Jerry’s superego and id, the better and worse angels of his nature (both, of course, voiced by Reynolds).

But when Jerry’s attempt to get close to the object of his desire leads to him chasing the underwear-clad Fiona through the woods with a big knife followed by her accidental murder, Mr. Whiskers has a plan. Step 1 involves dismembering Fiona’s body. Step 2 involves Jerry keeping Fiona’s head in his fridge where he can still talk to her (and, more importantly, she can still talk to him). Step 3 involves finding her some friends…

Perhaps the sweetest, goofiest, romantic comedy about a serial killer who talks to his pets you’ll see this week, The Voices is gleefully twisted, French-Iranian director Marjane Satrapi (author of graphic novel memoir Persepolis and co-director of the subsequent film) creating a lush, candy-coloured world that feels like Twin Peaks in high def with a hero who’s halfway between Dr. Dolittle and Dennis Nilsen. Jerry is quite literally killing for company and Reynolds is a revelation in the role, has quite simply never been better, eschewing the easy options of playing Jerry for laughs or playing up the psycho lurking within Jerry in favour of playing the sweet, shy, lonely man at the character’s heart, shining particularly in the quiet, understated moments with Kendrick, and there’s wonderful support from Weaver, Kendrick and Arterton.

While much of the film is very, very funny and looks gorgeous, Satrapi creating a heightened reality that shifts tonally along with its protagonist’s mood, one of the film’s most jarring, brutally effective moments comes when Jerry tries to stick to his medication, the drugs bleaching his world of colour, light and magic, his clean, neat, orderly apartment transforming into a filthy hovel, the fridge’s chipper, chatty, head of Arterton becoming her decomposing, much less chatty, remains. Most crucially, Jerry loses his only real friends, the medication robbing Bosco and Mr. Whiskers of their voices. On the drugs that keep him sane, the world is a cold, bleak, friendless place, one that would drive you insane. Is it any wonder then you find yourself rooting for Jerry to ditch the meds and embrace the madness?

The Voices may run out of steam in its final act but together Reynolds and Satrapi have created a smart, subtle, darkly funny and ultimately heartbreaking portrait of everyday madness. And cat owners everywhere know deep down that their own adorable little furwit probably sounds a lot like Mr. Whiskers.

 

Movie Review: The Voices
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