|'A film with a streak down its middle so intensely dark and thick that it occasionally obscures the humour entirely'.|
Best known for her directorial debut film, the semi-autobiographical animated satire Persepolis, it's perhaps not surprising to learn that Marjane Satrapi seldom - if ever - makes The Voices a straightforward comedy. What is likely to surprise, however, is how often the director makes the bold decision to include moments that purposefully excise any comic elements all together. This is a film with a streak down its middle so intensely dark and thick that it occasionally obscures the humour entirely.
A decision as unexpected as this in a film marketed in a much quirkier manner and starring an actor primarily known for his comedy work is one that perhaps inevitably creates as many problems as it does moments of genuine inspiration. The Voices regularly feels at its strongest when Satrapi is delivering Hitchcock-inspired thrills, with several sequences genuinely chilling and palpably tense in their execution. When it comes to the comedic elements, the director is most successful when at her most surreally Coen-esque. However, Satrapi seems to lose confidence in her own abilities here and there, at times falling back on much less interesting, more mainstream methods of generating laughs.
The narrative driving The Voices also wavers throughout, at times offering a pleasing character study of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) that genuinely grips, at others feeling as though Satrapi is genuinely unsure of where she wants to go. This is particularly true during the climax, unfortunately leaving Satrapi's film to conclude at perhaps its weakest point, something which the director unsuccessfully attempts to cover up with wacky humour as the credits roll.
Satrapi, and perhaps writer Michael R. Perry too, arguably sidestep saying something meaningful about mental health and the ways in which it is viewed and dealt with (or not, as the case may be) in modern society. It's a choice they might have got away with if The Voices had a tone more akin to that of a Farrelly Brothers release. But it doesn't, the film instead delivering a far more sober and solemn mood than that. As such, it's a decision which feels at best misjudged, at worst cowardly, maybe even exploitative, by both director and writer.
It's a shame, because Reynolds consistently provides an engaging, funny and at times heartbreakingly tragic centre to Satrapi's film. Whilst Jerry appears as a comedy figure on the surface, Reynolds ensures we understand that in actual fact The Voices is the story of a severely mentally ill and dangerously unstable man. The comedy more overtly comes from Jerry's pets, whom he hallucinates speaking to him and whose voices are also provided by Reynolds. Bosco the Mastiff, whose accent and intonation comes straight out of Disney's back catalogue of classic dog voices, takes on the role of the angel on Jerry's shoulder; whilst ginger tom Mr. Whiskers, sounding disturbingly like Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur, is undoubtedly the devil on the other side. None of this would work without the excellent performance from the central actor, balancing brutal emotion with black humour superbly. Reynolds shines throughout, and needs to seek out more roles just like this.