Horror comedy is a bit of a tonal tightrope as a genre, and Marjane Satrapi’s attempt to walk it is a pretty bold one. Ryan Reynolds stars as Jerry, a seemingly normal, if awkward, guy who lives and works in a small American town. His house is above a run down bowling alley and his job is in a bath tub factory that wouldn’t be amiss in a Wes Anderson film, such is it’s cake coloured symmetry and order. Indeed Jerry’s flat seems a little too perfect and a bit uncanny. And then the animals start speaking.
Jerry’s daily life initially seems like a fairly average one, up until he walks through his door at home and his dog and cat start giving him moral advice. His cat, Mr Whiskers, plays the devil in this situation, and his dog, Bosco, the angel. However these archetypes are infused with some of their respective animal spirits as well. Reynolds plays all the animal parts himself, making Mr Whiskers Scottish, rude and evil, while Bosco is a pretty good natured, relaxed and well-intentioned canine companion.
The trouble really starts when Jerry starts his pursuit of his co-worker Lisa, played by Gemma Arterton. Lisa stands poor Jerry up on their first date. It does follow that this would be a bad course of action when the person you are standing up also takes guidance from their pets. Especially when the cat reads like a metamorphosed Malcolm Tucker. As the film goes on it becomes more and more clear that Jerry is a pretty sick man. Anna Kendrick and Jacky Weaver complete the cast nicely as another love interest and as Jerry’s counsellor respectively.
The Voices is a film that hangs on a number of stark juxtapositions, some of which work and some of which do not. There are contrasts between Jerry’s reality and reality, dark comedy and violence that feel like one film and then amongst that there is a quite melancholy film about mental health and the loss of loved ones. This is not to say that all of this isn’t interesting, it very much is, but it makes for an overall incoherent viewing experience. One is certainly inclined to laugh at Jerry as a character at the beginning, Reynolds plays the psycho oddball with relish but he plays it as a comic role.
After a certain amount of time you don’t feel like you can laugh any more. The ambition to make Jerry a fully fleshed-out character is a good one, but it is done perhaps too visually for this type of comedy. The viewer almost feels as if you were tricked into laughing early on, only to be given a disapproving look in the latter parts. That said there is plenty to enjoy in the film, the acting and writing is very good in the majority, it is perhaps on the directorial vision that the film is let down.
There are films that can make the merging of multiple genres work. American Psycho (2000) put a satirical and comedic spin on mental health, or the lesser seen Ryan Reynolds film Paper Man (2009) which had Reynolds playing the hallucinations of an ageing Jeff Daniels, which dealt well with mixing themes of mental illness with tonally appropriate comedy. (Paper Man was only released in the UK on DVD and under the name Unlikely Hero, if you’re looking.) There are two films in there, both of which are carried out with dedication; they just clash with each other. Like cat and dog.
The Voices is out on 20 March