Not one to generally participate in the Toronto International Film Festival, it was a rare evening in which I found myself standing in a rush line to see a movie, but a friend of mine wanted to see the latest Ryan Reynolds film called The Voices. This is not your typical Ryan Reynolds film.
Reynolds is Jerry Hickfang, a good-natured if skittish guy who works in the shipping department of a bathroom fixtures company in Milton, the derelict remains of a town in Nowhere, USA. Jerry is a nice guy, who lives above a derelict bowling alley with his dog Bosco and cat Mr. Whiskers. And of course, Jerry has the hots for office cupcake Fiona, a misplaced Brit with a craving for bigger things, played by Gemma Arterton. For her part, Fiona finds Jerry a little creepy, but is not above using his puppy lust to get a lift during a rain storm.
Oh, and the other thing you probably need to know about Jerry is that he is in court-appointed psychiatric treatment, isn’t really good about taking his meds, and has a family history of hearing voices, but that’s not something he likes to talk about.
So far, so harmless. But after a literal run-in with a deer who begs Jerry to finish him off, the blood-letting never really stops and the rest of the movie becomes a giant slip-and-slide of mostly implied blood and offal.
So, The Voices is a thriller…and a drama…and a comedy…and a farce. You squirm in revulsion (never really reaches horror) as often as you LOL.
Director Marjane Satrapi (who brought us Persepolis) attended the screening and describes the story as completely fucked up. She said she was mesmerized by the screenplay and desperately wanted to meet the man who penned it to see what messed up human could conceptualize such a story. So she was surprised when she met Michael R Perry, a tall normal-looking fellow.
As Perry explained, he wanted to look at the life of someone of multiple personality disorder from their perspective rather than society’s. And in that, he succeeded.
With Satrapi’s help, the two clearly crafted the oddly idyllic yet troubled world within Jerry’s mind, giving the audience only the briefest glimpse of how the rest of the world saw things. With Jerry, it was all perfect love and butterflies. To the rest of us, it was squalor and pain.
Where the story fell down for me was in explaining why everything went wrong so suddenly. In writing circles, we talk about “Why today?” Why does your story begin today, at this moment, and not 6 weeks ago or 5 months from now? In this case, what was the event that caused Jerry to go from lovable schmuck to… Some might suggest it was the deer accident, but even Mr. Whiskers called that bullshit
The other place I felt let down was that the conflict never escalated, it merely accumulated. Rather than find interesting ways for Jerry’s mania to manifest itself, the writer simply repeated the same event over and over, as though each of the characters voluntarily walked into a wood chipper.
And I don’t know if the ending was presented as written or was something that blossomed out of Satrapi’s mind, but it was lazy and bordered on the ludicrous. It was a bad after-taste on a film that had merits.
On the plus side, Ryan Reynolds was amazing to watch…this was not the charming goofball romantic comedy, although Jerry was sadly charming when he wasn’t obviously tortured by his snarky brogue-spewing cat. (NOTE: Bosco and Mr. Whiskers easily have the funniest lines in this film.)
Gemma Arterton’s Fiona was a delight. She was delicious to watch as the voluptuous vixen whose biggest fear in life is being bored. Problem solved!
Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air), as tier-two love interest Lisa (see, the writer even repeated this beat), was largely wasted. Her character was pretty two-dimensional. As nice girl looking for a nice guy, her function was to have Jerry explain his condition to the audience (exposition disguised as opening up).
The Voices is definitely worth seeing, if only for what it attempts to do. I can’t help feeling, however, that if they had rewritten the screenplay a few more times, they would have achieved their goals much better than this.
My recommend (and that of my friend) is that this is a Cheapie Tuesday movie (or whatever your local half-price day is).
PS I was unable to find a trailer for this movie, so I offer the following interview with Satrapi at Sundance London…I will warn you, however, that it does include a lot more info about the plot than I gave above.