Marjane Satrapi burst onto the directorial scene with a keen eye for visual flair and a sly feminist wit when she adapted her acclaimed graphic novel Persepolis to the screen as an animated feature. She then went on to adapt her novel Chicken With Plums to the big screen with a similar degree of success. Now we have The Voices, a truly bizarre addition to her filmography, not really dealing with any themes or motifs that fit into her comfort zone, and while this expansion into new territory certainly shows her struggle to move beyond feminist intellectualism as her go-to subject, it is still a decent enough film where I feel it deserves a recommendation.
Ryan Reynolds stars as Jerry, a pleasant enough guy who just has something a little off about him. At his factory job, he’s friendly and upbeat, but social niceties are a little beyond him, so he comes off as weird to his coworkers. When Jerry goes home, he talks to his pet dog and cat… and they talk right back. Jerry suffers from some form of mental illness (a vague form of schizophrenia that is never fully diagnosed) wherein his dog acts as his conscience and his cat as his psychotic murderous id. Through interacting with his animal “friends,” Jerry navigates the treacherous world of dating, accidental killing, intentional killing, and sexual intimacy.
Satrapi plays to her strengths right off the bat by casting the sets and characters in a darkly comic tone, with bright scenery and perpetually polite characters populating the screen as the undercurrent of Jerry’s approaching breakdown looms just below the surface. Reynolds is actually a surprisingly good fit for the role, shedding his normal frat douche persona for a more innocent and confused man who doesn’t know how to handle his loneliness. The film really shines when Jerry decides to stop taking his meds, and the wool is pulled from both his and the audience’s eyes as we see that his existence isn’t so bright and cheery as we would believe.
Alas, that is also the film’s biggest stumbling block, as it fumbles between wildly contrasting tones at the behest of the plot. The film starts as a dark comedy, and remains as such for a good long while, but soon we start to get glimpses of Jerry’s past and a scene shot from the perspective of one of his potential murder victims, and suddenly the laughs come to a complete stop. It is rather jarring to spend one scene talking with a disembodied head in a comically overblown accent, then another seriously dwelling on child abuse and suicide as side effects of mental illness. The scenes are handled well to convey the tones that they are intended for, but the tones are so wildly discordant that they don’t feel like they belong in the same film.
And yet, despite this issue, I had a good time with The Voices. Though definitely not the smartest work in Marjane Satrapi’s portfolio, it remains consistently funny when it’s trying to be, and the self-serious diversions aren’t so much film-breaking as they are distracting. For fans of dark humor, I say give this one a shot, and hope that Satrapi can continue making great work after learning from her mistakes.