Talking Heads

The Voices (2014, Marjane Satrapi) The Voices comes from the ‘okay, sure’ school of filmmaking, wherein a junk drawer full of self-conscious kookiness is tossed together in a celluloid jumble and fingers-crossed congeals into something tolerable. Existing like a mish-mash of Texas Chainsaw and Dr. Dolittle, The Voices seeks darkly comedic hijinks through the tale of Jerry, a dopey factory employee convinced his talking pets are responsible for driving him to acts of bloody murder, his cat a dastardly villain with a thick Scottish brogue, his dog a mellow, subservient basket case. It’s a sea of nutty elements, some more distracting than others, but few particularly meaningful.

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Depicting mental illness with casual absurdity isn’t an inherently ill-thought endeavour, but The Voices struggles to mine any psychological depth from Jerry’s madness, nor does it successfully use insanity as a jumping-off point for larger cultural commentary. Jerry is merely nuts, the film granting him the thinnest sliver of back-story, the gory murders he embarks upon co-aligning messily with the cutesy aftermath of severed heads jabbering away at him from inside his fridge freezer.

The tonal schizophrenia seems intentional, particularly in the recurring motif of Jerry’s apartment above a disused bowling alley looking brightly-lit and inviting from his perspective and bloody and Leatherface-primed from everyone else’s, but it’s rarely winning. Instead it feels uncertain, genre-bending absurdity for the sake of genre-bending absurdity. And once Ryan Reynolds’ performance grows grislier and The Voices becomes more of a conventional horror-thriller, the film as a whole completely loses sight of its goals, or what kind of story it aspires to tell.

It’s not the most auspicious of English-language debuts for Persepolis director Marjane Satrapi, but she’s at least successful when it comes to the visuals. Few will be surprised by Satrapi’s background in animation – she lends The Voices a vivid, cartoonish colour palette full of aggressive pinks and all-American, 1950’s typography. Fictitious brands glimpsed on-screen therefore have an out-of-time quality, as if stuck in amber from an era where the future seemed bright, glamorous and optimistic. Only now they’re peering out incongruously at the sad-sack inhabitants of worn-down, Nowheresville USA.

She also gets great performances from her cast. Both Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick, as ‘office sexpot’ and ‘office cutie-pie’, respectively, help grant dimensions and shading to stock characters, and Jacki Weaver brings sharp, maternal warmth to her role as Jerry’s psycho-therapist. And while The Voices can’t entirely escape the feel of ‘one-man vanity project’, the often miscast Reynolds is here in his element, twisting his goofy features into something vulnerable yet sinister, generally avoiding ‘crazy-by-numbers’ posturing. At least for most of the movie.

But everybody seems to be fighting somewhat against what amounts to a directionless, empty script that folds like tissue paper as soon as you prod it a little. Satrapi’s film has some surface delights, but its psychology is uninteresting and its ultimate goals unsure. Cuteness sustains a couple of acts, but The Voices eventually becomes a barrel of quirky gimmicks in search of an actual movie.

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