Monday, February 2, 2015

Marjane Satrapi jumps genres, Ryan Reynolds grows ever more versatile with THE VOICES

"Have you been taking your medicine?" This question--asked of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds in yet another of his many excellent, versatile, and likely-to-be-overlooked performances) by his therapist (Jacki Weaver)--hangs over the new movie THE VOICES like a shroud. The answer is always no, and the result, while pretty awful, is also the reason the film exists. Jerry, you see, is one of those borderline personalities kept in check by medication but capable of who-knows-what when he goes off it. Who-knows-what is exactly what we get in this very funny, bizarre, surprising, alternately gory and subdued genre-jumper that looks at mental illness from a variety of angles -- most of them nothing quite like we've previously seen. Sure, we've had a number of comic killer/slasher/thriller movies, but this one's something else. It takes a look at insanity from a different perspective.

Director Marjane Satrapi (shown at left, who gave us the animated Persepolis and the even better Chicken With Plums) usually has a hand in the screen-writing. That she did not in this case may have something to do with the movie's jarring notes, and yet this jarring may be what enables the whole thing to work as well as it does. How the fantasy of insanity knocks up against reality is part of the movie's point, and Ms Satrapi shows it to us via some interesting visual and audial counterpointing. It isn't simply that Jerry converses with his pets -- a kindly dog and a nasty cat -- when he's off his meds; notice the look and the cleanliness of his home with and without those pills, particularly once the carnage begins. Satrapi doesn't push things, but she does enable them. And the screenplay, from Michael R. Perry, keeps the plot on point with decent dialog and an arc that goes where we dearly wish it wouldn't, though we know it must.

That the movie succeeds as well as it does rests on the broad-enough shoulders of Mr. Reynolds (above and below), who, with his cutie-pie face and great body, makes a very appealing hero who can then turn scary on a dime. Further, he does all the animal voices -- quite a range! -- and even sings and dances, too. Move over, Hugh Jackman.

In the supporting cast are a number of good actress, from Ms Weaver to Gemma Arterton (the head being fed, above, as the co-worker on whom Jerry has a crush) and Anna Kendrick (below, as another co-worker who has a crush on him).

Reynolds keeps us rooting for Jerry beyond all wisdom and hope, even as events turn darker and nastier. The filmmaker manages to hold things together, sometimes shakily, but that is also part of the bizarre fun. Perhaps it takes someone who grew up in Iran to show us America so bluntly -- in day-glo pastels for the way we imagine and/or want things to be, and then earth, blood and shit tones as reality sets in.

As I say, as many so-called comedy shockers as you may have already encountered, you'll probably not have seen something comparable to The Voices -- which seems to spin near-gold out of the very straw of its occasional missteps.

The movie, from Lionsgate and running 104 minutes, opens this Friday, February 6, at an AMC theater in ten cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Here in NYC, it will play the AMC Empire 25, and in the L.A. area, look for it at AMC's Citywalk Stadium 19. Simultaneously, it will be available via VOD, as well.

No comments: