Jerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a man. A man who hears voices – ‘The Voices‘. When he accidentally kills the woman of his dreams, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), he must decide whether he is going to listen to his malevolent cat, Mr. Whiskers, or his benevolent dog, Bosco.
At its heart the blackest of comedies, ‘The Voices‘ focuses on the town oddball, Jerry Hickfang, a simple, happy, overly-friendly dude who works at the local bathtub factory, Milton Fixture & Faucet International. Jerry isn’t like everyone else. He’s a little intense, bordering on creepy, but his peculiarities and enthusiastic nature are what makes him so likeable. And boy, is he enthusiastic! He loves pizza so much he excitedly takes the office’s excess cold slices home – even imagining the pepperoni pieces as love hearts. He adores the tacky Shi-Shan Chinese buffet, with its Asian Elvis, Bruce Lee impersonator and weird Godzilla performances, so unashamedly, he eagerly invites his crush, the English Fiona, on a ‘casual’ first date there (as if he could act casually). A dance with Fiona at the staff party is charmingly chaotic and uncoordinated.
Ryan Reynolds is in his element as Jerry. And voices of Mr. Whiskers (who is inexplicably Scottish) and Bosco. His rapid descent into insanity is not only believable, but he plays it so sweet, so ‘wants to be good’, that you can’t help but root for him. Even as he repeatedly stabs his love, he weeps, pathetically whispering “I’m sorry.” An exchange with his dog is heart-breaking, when Bosco says “You remember last week when you said that there was an invisible line that separates good from evil and you thought you’d crossed it and I said no no no no you’re a good boy?… I’ve changed my opinion.” The self-realisation that plays out on Reynolds’ face, as Jerry truly understands the impact of his killings, is beautifully nuanced.
Gemma Arterton is wonderful as the flirty Fiona, Jerry’s first crush. She’s exuberant, sexy, and relishes being the centre of attention. She’s the polar opposite of Lisa, Jerry’s first girlfriend, played by the always-delightful Anna Kendrick. Lisa is a wallflower. She likes Jerry, a lot, and is willing to forgive his many foibles.
The way Marjane Satrapi frames the juxtaposition between the candy-coloured beautiful world of Jerry’s mind, versus the dark gritty truth of reality, is masterful. It’s a glimpse of his dingy apartment, spattered with blood and littered with rotting body parts, before switching back to Jerry’s glossy clean vision of the same room. It’s a flash of the ashen faces of Jerry’s victims lined up in the refrigerator, compared to the perfectly preened disembodied heads he sees. His mind is so beguiling, it’s not hard to imagine why he prefers his hallucinatory view, why he would neglect to take the medicine prescribed to him.
‘The Voices‘ is largely forgotten in the wider pop-culture zeitgeist, but for all its madcap pandemonium, it’s a film with a kind heart and wicked soul. Jerry’s psychological issues are extreme, yet empathetically portrayed. As his therapist (Jacki Weaver) says, “being alone in the world is the root of all suffering – but Jerry, we’re not alone.” If anything, there’s a really positive mental health message to take from The Voices: we aren’t alone, and reality is where life is, so seek and accept help, gosh darn-it!
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sing a happy song…
Directed by: Marjane Satrapi
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick