Friday, February 06, 2015

talking heads

Marjane Satrapi's "The Voices" is a charmingly gruesome oddball film with a charmingly unstable oddball hero.  Jerry (a remarkable Ryan Reynolds) has been on the mend, mentally, and disenfranchised ever since an ugly childhood event in which he was only peripherally involved but that left him with a damaged reputation. His Wonder Years were hell in general.

Jerry's stunted and his overall sense of dislocation has brought him to Anywhere, U.S.A. where he works for Milton International, a bathtub factory.  He lives in the curiously solitary apartment above the abandoned Mellow Lanes bowling alley with his dog Bosco and cat Mr. Whiskers, both of whom speak to Jerry in distinct voices (provided by Reynolds himself). Bosco, a kind soul, has a good-old-boy country drawl, while the snide, foul-mouthed Mr. Whiskers talks with, improbably, a Scottish brogue.

Jerry also talks, once a week, to his psychoanalyst Dr. Warren (Jacki Weaver), whose one mission is to keep Jerry on his meds - so he won't hear voices.  Actually, it's because of the meds that he thinks Bosco and Mr. Whiskers are talking to him.  Anyway, Mr. Whiskers, a brilliant provocateur, coerces Jerry to date and kill a few of the young women in the accounting department of Milton.  (The ladies unlucky in love are gamely played by Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Ella Smith.)

Yes, Jerry becomes a serial killer.

Well, to be precise, he becomes a serial decapitator. He stores the women's heads in the refrigerator in his little apartment, chatting with them (they talk back, too) and feeding them cereal. "The Voices" is clearly an acquired taste (to put it mildly), hardly easy to recommend, but I absolutely adored it.

Satrapi, who wrote the graphic novel "Persepolis" and co-directed its 2007 film version with Vincent Paronnaud, is apparently drawn to stories of exile and dislocation which have the potential to be dispiriting. But she offsets this unpopular passion with her appreciation and use of pop-art primary colors and kitschy production design and "The Voices" fairly snaps visually.

Reynolds, who has broken away from the Hollywood mold since "Green Lantern" (Atom Egoyan's The Captive" and Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck's "Mississippi Grind"), is totally in concert with Satrapi's vision here.

His performance is immersive and fully committed, at once funny, affecting and frightening.

Together, Satrapi and her star refuse to honor audience expectations, to the point that "The Voices" closes with a nifty production number in which the entire cast sings and dances - to a ditty titled "Sing a Happy Song" (!).

Again, oddball.

"The Voices" isn't receiving a wide release.  No surprise here.  Or even a reasonably limited release.  (Full disclosure: I saw it On Demand.)

What's surprising - and heartening - is that it got made in the first place.

Photo Credits: Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate  © 2014 


Alex said...

This sounds like my kind of film - a warped combination of Joe Dante and Michael Powell. I plan to see it and hope it's as wild as you say.

Brian Lucas said...

I just saw "The Voices" and was blown away by how it felt ahead-of-its-time and yet retro at the same time. It's probably so idiosyncratic that it’s difficult to include it along with comparable genre accomplishments. I like the glorious Technicolor world of Jerry that Satrapi creates. So kitsch!

mike said...

Can't wait to see this. Sounds like a fantasy allegory, at least the way you describe it. Sounds like fun. Although I'm sure someone, somewhere, will write something deeper about its metaphysical qualities. I hope to see it before I read anything heavy like that.

Tom B. said...

Mike, you’re right, the movie is fantasy/allegory. Still, I wonder if people can enjoy this film without being bothered that the filmmakers here amuse themselves (and the some audience members) with dark jokes about sacred concepts.

a.n. said...

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Keep writing!

wwolfe said...

I thought Reynolds was excellent in "Definitely, Maybe," one of the better romantic comedies of recent vintage. I was sorry to see him get sucked into the Hollywood machine in poor movies like "Green Lantern" and "RIPD," so it's good to see him make the choice for more interesting, if less well-paid, work like "The Voices."

Stephen said...

This sounds like almost a Joe Dante film, indeed.