Overview: Small-town factory worker Jerry seems to be leading a normal life, until he speaks to his pets and his pets speak back. What follows is a funny, twisted tale of murder and dwindling sanity. 2015; Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment; Rated R; 107 minutes.
The Tone: If the Coen brothers and Bobcat Goldthwait ever teamed up, the result might look something like The Voices. This violent, off-kilter comedy is darkly hilarious, constantly entertaining, and overwhelmingly wacky. Put simply: I can’t remember the last film that I loved this much. (Actually, I think it was probably Her. So yeah, it’s been a while.)
Dark comedy is my favorite genre. I’m just going to make it official. A good dark comedy is the most skillful piece of screenwriting out there. To nail the tone to the point of perfection in a film like this is nearly impossible, but The Voices did it, thanks both to director Marjane Satrapi and writer Michael R. Perry. This movie is hilarious and disturbing, jubilant and scary, zany and self-reflective. It’s everything that a good dark comedy should be, and it’s a real standout for the modern genre.
The Cast: Before The Voices, I didn’t “get” Ryan Reynolds. Sure, he’s pretty enough to look at, but I’d never been very impressed with his acting. Until now. Jerry, a man who is somehow both friendly and optimistic and an unstable, disturbed serial killer, strangely enough, feels like a role Reynolds was born to play. He shines throughout the film, but especially in moments when Jerry is trying desperately to do the right thing. Reynolds is likable. You want him to make the right decisions. And so it is with Jerry.
Reynolds carries Jerry’s struggle flawlessly. This is a good man; there’s never really any doubt about that. He wants to do what’s right. He wants, as his dog regularly reminds him, to be a good boy, but he has to fight for it constantly, and that’s a struggle that not everyone can understand.
Anna Kendrick has been in so many solid films lately, it’s fair to say she’s making some of the best choices in the industry right now, and The Voices is another good decision. Being in this film will likely be widely viewed as a good decision for all involved. While The Voices won’t reach a huge audience, odds are it’ll reach a passionate one. Fans of the genre will seek this film out, adore it, and talk about it to everyone they know.
The “Flaws:” If I have complaints with The Voices, they’re minor — such as the brief flashbacks that provide an unnecessary explanation for Jerry’s issues. It’s enough that he’s mentally unstable and that he’s trying. Beyond that, we don’t need anything more. There’s also the question of what message the film is trying to sell. Is it about not knowing what struggles someone might be hiding beneath the surface? About taking care not to judge? Or maybe it’s about being wary of seemingly friendly, attractive factory workers?
Finally: In the end, The Voices can’t be broken down and run through a systemic formula of themes. It’s a movie about a serial killer with a heart of gold, a demonic cat, an angelic dog, talking severed heads, and a lot of jokes, and that’s enough for me.